January 10, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for gam gallery
There has been a resurgence out east recently, a ringing rush of success from the girls’ athletics programs, heard in the spring – when the soccer team made the playoffs – and fully audible in fall, when volleyball broke a long stretch of tough times with a postseason voyage. Track has been totally killing it for a while, so coming into 2022-23, the basketball contingent at Econ seems to be next on the home improvement list.
And the Lady Jags have responded well to the challenge, having piled up 16 wins, most in a decade, heading into Tuesday’s home clash with ancient rival EHS. Coach Mari Campos’ senior-led bunch may well end up ending the playoff jinx down the road, because this year’s crew is tough and talented, and has recorded some fine wins.
But Tuesday, unfortunately for the Orange, it was business as usual for EHS as the Lady Bobcats absolutely pulverized Econ, 53-19, in a deflating and one-sided affair that one imagines is more down to EHS being amazing than anything else. The Lady Jags were outgunned from the outset, falling behind 12-0 and at one stage, 32-4 late in the second period of an anticlimactic showdown that was over even as it began.
Campos and Co. had defeated P-SJ-A in their district opener, but when Emily Carranco knocked down two fast threes, one from the left side, one from the right, the message was sent. With Carranco going off for nine points in the first and then fellow juniors Kiki Fagan and Maddy Martinez combining for 13 in the second, the die was cast way ahead of time. The defensive effort from the Lady Bobcats was airtight, as Carranco jumped out front at times to befuddle the guards and the combo of Fagan and senior Lucy Jimenez rotated in the chore of slowing down high-scoring Dana Serna of Econ. These latter two were phenomenal, holding Serna to a mere two free throws – the first points of the night from the Orange, at 4:20 of the first – the entire game.
It was flat dominant, was the charge from J.D. Salinas’ Red and Blue, as EHS improved to 2-0 in 31-6A and won for the 21st time all told in 2022-23. The attack netted seven bombs for the night, to none for Econ, while the home side connected on just 3 of 12 from the free throw line.
The blowout marked the 27th time EHS has won the Rivalry Game in the last 31 starts, dating back to 2007-08, and was its 15th in a row to boot. The last time Econ defeated the Lady ‘Cats came back in 2014-15, when Silvia Perez slammed for 17 points and 14 rebounds as the Lady Jags slipped by EHS by 2. This, after a 2013-14 campaign that saw Econ sweep the Lady ‘Cats behind Sweet Pea, little Emily Suarez; awesome rebounder Perez; and the ferocious Noemi Garza. That was the season the Lady ‘Cats went 0-6 in town, proving that all programs go through ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys.
Econ is now advancing out of a valley but ran into a familiar obstacle Tuesday. In the 30 prior games between the two, EHS had scored 60 or more points on 18 occasions, while Econ had managed 39 or fewer in 17 contests. Average margin, 21.7 ppg with 11 30-point walkovers, including a 62-point EHS victory in 2017-18. Some folks thought that Tuesday might be different, and that the improving Lady Jags would be able to withstand the power and speed of the Lady Bobcats and make a game of it.
This, as it turns out, did not happen, and while it was a crushing result for the home girls, they will be reminded that a loss is a loss but just one, and that Friday’s road try at Mission gives them a chance for redemption. After all, North, which stumbled at home against La Joya in the district lid-lifter Friday, Jan. 6, got back in sharp shape the following date with a win over the Lady Eagles. It cannot be both teams’ night, on one night, and Tuesday was clearly EHS’s time to shine, no doubt about it.
From the get-go, EHS harassed the Lady Jag guards, Martinez to end with seven steals, Jimenez 5. Carranco led the offensive way with 17 points and 10 rebounds, her third straight double-double, setting the tone early with back-to-back trifectas.
“We started off hot and really did a good job,” said Salinas, whose club had begun the league slate with a 25-point drubbing of Mission. “Emily really came out of her shell and hit some big 3s for us; we got that quick spark. We got a little sloppy there for a while, but our defense was outstanding all night, we completely controlled the game.”
Well should Salinas praise the efforts of his defenders, and he commented that the energy from his girls was enough to contain the dangerous Serna, averaging nearly 20 ppg this season.
“We don’t usually press that much, because we cannot afford to have our Big Three get into foul trouble,” the coach explained. “But we jump out and press sometimes, using some junk defenses, when we think it will work. Tonight we worked well against the high picks, our defense wouldn’t let Dana get into the lane, we cut off the paths into the lane where she likes to go, the goal being to make other kids shoot the ball.”
On its first possession, EHS was guilty of overpassing into a turnover, and Serna came up with a big block on the next sequence. Frankly, that was just about it in terms of Lady Bobcat miscues during the opening stages. After Carranco hit from downtown twice, she then scored off an inbounds play with a strong foray to the goal, and the rout was on. Fagan, who is playing with so much confidence now in her junior campaign, was notably excellent all night, showing her athleticism there, her graceful moves here, her explosive ability on the dribble there, in one of her most magnificent showings as a Lady Bobcat. Now she whipped to the basket and hung in the air to avoid a defender’s approach, flippin’ in two as the Lady Jag sailed harmlessly by.
Meanwhile, Econ was flabbergasted at each end of the floor, flailing away against relentless pressure and finding it impossible to set up and run something. Even when gutty veteran Bianca Coronado ripped a rebound down, the Lady ‘Cats did not flinch as Martinez and Carranco assisted each other on a resounding blocked shot down low.
It was 10-0 in a hurry and those sorts of games are slightly hard to watch, when one knows that the result is probably already sealed.
The Lady Jags battled as best they could, with sophomore Brianna Maldonado fighting to rebounds and working offensively on the blocks. Fellow post and soph Natalie Elizondo would enjoy some strong moments in the second half (five boards) while senior Jaylene Corona was to come alive after halftime as well. but EHS just kept on motoring, for 32 minutes. Hard!
Every time Serna tried to drive, somebody was there, usually some bodies, as illustrated when a sliding and dogged Jimenez D’d her up, Fagan nimbly jumping over to knock the ball away and start the break the other way.
When the Lady Jags managed to excel, such as on a steal from Corona late in the first, they came down and missed a short shot, and that’s the way it went. A nightmare for the Orange, one that tormented them throughout, and one from which they would never, Tuesday at least, awaken. The signature play, among many, came when Coronado, not usually the first offensive option, made two excellent dribble-drive moves to work free underneath, only to have Carranco come over and palm her shot. But in terms of hustle and desire, Coronado was locked into it Tuesday, as all good seniors are.
On the other hand, EHS was just playing easy and playing great, as Jimenez now stole one and bowled a sidearm pass of terrific accuracy to a streaking Martinez. Soon, when the latter popped in a long one off a Fagan pass, it was 22-4 and the crowd was half jubilant, half moribund. It got out to 28-4 when sub Hillary Luna fielded an EHS airball and put it back up and in.
Fagan provided a highlight when she tapped a loose ball to herself, in traffic, with two quick hand pops in the air, just like a guy named Worthy used to do for the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. Such quickness and coordination! Then Fagan, who is fighting happily with brother Jahi for Family MVP honors in 2022-23, continued to shine, powering in an offensive rebound, after Carranco had ankled a defender at midcourt with a slick crossover move. Halftime came, thankfully, with EHS worlds away, 32-6.
In the second half, more of the same as groovy Fagan knocked in a three and went 3 of 4 from the line in the third, dead-eye Martinez notching her third three-ball. The half was also memorable for the exploits of the determined Corona of Econ, who raced from one end of the court to the other, hustling and sparring, refusing to be shattered by the turn of events. Her face contorted with intensity, the senior was fire levitating, even showing offensive skills off the bounce – generally not her strongest suit, though she has several – and smashing around trying to stop the Lady ‘Cats any way she could.
As the night wore on, Corona clobbered Carranco on a drive by the EHS star and then after that, earned a tie-up by launching to the floor for a wrestling match. She would have made the hard-working Noemi Garza proud, say that. As Coronado had shown her pride in program during a difficult first half, so now did Corona give it all for the badge, as they say in soccer. She scored twice in the fourth, on wild drives to the basket (and the foul!) and then ripped away a steal, and then another. A truly inspiring performance from a seasoned vet, and in a game that was already over. Over? Didn’t matter to Corona. All props to 3!
Salinas knows that the district race is probably turning his way now, as in the 6-team league, his Lady Bobcats are by far the classiest. He just wants Tuesday to be one link along the chain, leading to the postseason.
“That’s our goal, to be playing better basketball each time out,” he said. “You look at this game, the second one in district and it’s already mid-January. Last year we had played the second district one a month earlier, so this season has been different in that respect. We have to get closer to peaking with every game we play now, we can’t take anyone lightly and we never do. Every win is a big win, I mean, we looked at film for this one like we were going to be playing for the district title.”
For the Lady Jags, it was just not there, but now comes the rest of the story. Having begun so well, gained confidence and precision, Econ now has to put this one to bed, fast, because in the 8-game stretch to come, the program will show that it’s still intent on getting back to the playoffs, following the positive examples set by the other girls’ sporting outfits out east.
Despite a disappointing evening against a decidedly implacable foe, the Orange will be heard from in the coming weeks.
Campos has always been an expert at the psychology of coaching, so look for her kids to come back strong and leave this memory, unpleasant as it may be, in the rearview mirror.