February 13, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
LOS FRESNOS – Despite steady, stimulating talk of the latest Big 3 on the basketball court for EHS, rightly so considering the exploits of three dynamite juniors over the past few seasons, Coach J.D. Salinas is always quick to remind that there needs to be balance. Many times, he’s noted that it takes five to thrive, and then some, so that focusing on Emily Carranco, Kimora Fagan, and Maddy Martinez – averaging more than 45 ppg combined this season – can perhaps deflect from notice of other keys to the success of the program.
Lucy Jimenez, for example has vaulted into prominence in recent times with her leadership and all-around performance. Before the Lady Bobcats faced Los Fresnos here Monday in bi-district, the coach waxed eloquently on the contributions of the hustling Jimenez, who has become such a vital cog, saying that the senior guard is amazingly coachable, worked diligently to prepare for this season, and has helped the club to 29 wins. The athletic Fagan leads vocally with a 100 percent positive attitude, Carranco is a dogged competitor who stuffs the stat sheet nightly, and Martinez is among the finest defenders and three-point shooters in the Valley., but Salinas knows that without Lucy, it would have been way harder for the gang to reach its usual heights of excellence.
Then Salinas, winner of seven league crowns in 11 storied seasons at the school, mentioned another Lady Bobcat, junior Mia Dominguez, the volleyball standout.
“Everyone has had to find their role, that’s the way it works,” he said, as the teams warmed up for the game. “With Mia, we know she is athletic and strong, and we expect her to get some rebounds, play good defense when she gets in. She has basketball in her genes, both her parents were great players, so we look to Mia sometimes to give us a boost when we need it.”
Facing a mammoth Lady Falcon lineup with four kids standing 5-8 or higher, the Lady ‘Cats fell behind 8-1 after four minutes. It was touch and go as Los Fresnos got loose underneath for easy baskets and at the other end EHS missed shots and turned it over in an uncharacteristically iffy opening act from the 31-6A champ.
Having outscored their league opponents by 30 or 40 points on most dates, sometimes more, EHS was now in a real tussle. Dominguez checked into the game midway through the first period and immediately made an impact down low, and when she completed a three-point play at the end of the quarter, it gave her side a 16-12 lead. She would finish with seven points and a handful of strong defensive plays, as the Lady ‘Cats made it through the slow stretch to gradually assert their dominance in a 63-49 victory, sending them on to the area round and a clash with Laredo United South.
“Los Fresnos was ready for us tonight, and we started a little nervously,” Salinas noted, after win No. 30 had been safely tucked away. “But we weathered the storm and we came back. Los Fresnos was a really strong fourth seed and we needed everything we had to get past them. In the playoffs, it’s all about moving on. Tonight, everyone came through for us, like Mia, she got her rebounds, made some shots, and was tough on defense.”
Salinas brought his championship five to the southeast Monday, where the Lady Falcons, who had started the season very well but finished only 5-5 in their league, were more than ready. Though the Lady ‘Cats blasted Los Fresnos by 42 in non-district Dec. 9, this would be a different animal altogether, as it often is in rematches, in the postseason. The home side broke the press well enough and used bulk on the blocks to assume momentum in the first stages, their crowd voicing boisterous approval.
EHS missed its three-point shots, got a couple of tries blocked in the paint, and generally seemed antsy in this playoff kickoff. To counter, Martinez turned in a pair of blocks, showing once again her underrated defensive skills, and when Carranco knocked down a crucial 3, the Red and Blue started to ball. Still, Los Fresnos was killing the Lady ‘Cats on the boards, and EHS was not getting back swiftly enough on defense, leading to high percentage looks from the underdog.
But Carranco leapt in for a steal at midcourt and eventually rolled to the basket, right side, leaning away from a defender to hook one in to make it just 8-6. On her way to 22 points and 14 rebounds, Carranco was paramount in the surge as was Dominguez, who took up space in the paint and used her mobility to deny easy shots. At 1:28 of the first, Carranco waited for a triangle passing move to unfold on the perimeter, and soon she struck. On an inbounds play, she took the ball left and veered back to the right, snaking in a drive against traffic. Dominguez next scuffled for an offensive rebound and Los Fresnos was starting to wonder.
Fagan came down and launched in a bomb and then assisted to Carranco, giving EHS the lead at 13-10, and Dominguez capped the comeback with her layup and free throw at 0:01.
One expected Los Fresnos to subside now, as the better team had asserted itself after a poor beginning. But instead of cratering, the Lady Falcons came on back themselves, achieving second stanza ties at 16 and 18, making some outside shots, and generally refusing to face reality.
“They really came out hard,” said Carranco, weary/sweaty/happy after the win. “This was a tough game, but we just kept pushing. We had to pick it up, collectively, and Mia was really helping tonight, on the boards and on defense.”
The scary first quarter gave way to a hard-fought scrap for control but Fagan was equal to every challenge Monday with 15 points, five boards, and several outstanding assists. Her ability on the dribble confounded the game but slower Los Fresnos guards all night. Now she drove the basket and scored for a 3-point advantage, followed by a dazzling play which went Jimenez to Martinez to Carranco: at 3 minutes it was 23-18. Fagan sank a high arching three, one of nine the team connected on in bi-district, but Los Fresnos was pesky still.
Halftime arrived with the Lady ‘Cats up 6 but the result still in the balance. Having made just 3 of 9 free throws, suffered defensive lapses, and been punished inside, EHS would have to do better to subdue the stubborn enemy.
PLEASE STAND UP
Senior Tara Moreno started the third with a fiery rebound and a steal, illustrating the balance Salians considers necessary to the team’s success, and then it was Maddy Time. Martinez was quietly ballistic in the period with her team’s first 10 points after the break, including two long-range makes, while the rest of the group moved, passed, and cranked up the defensive effort. Los Fresnos had been able to beat EHS back downcourt for some easy looks, but that would come to an end now.
Fagan continued to distribute the basketball with speed and flair, finding Martinez on one of the latter’s treys and seeing Carranco open for a score inside. The graceful Fagan tiptoed near the endline in the backcourt to get a rebound and quickly fired an outlet to Jimenez, who assisted to Martinez as the Lady ‘Cats built mojo. It was soon a 10-point lead, some breathing room for the champs. Moreno grabbed another carom and on came freshman Sydnie Brenner, who swiftly made her stamp with a rejection on defense.
But the Lady Falcons, playing a bit over their heads as they had for much of the night, battled back in again, eventually carving the margin to 4 late in the third. When Martinez canned a shot from beyond the arc at 2:14, EHS was stunned to see Los Fresnos come down for same. Playoff basketball, challenge on the road, and the Lady Falcs gave the 31-6A titlist all it could handle Monday.
Just when it looked like a nail-biter for the duration, the trusty Jimenez got open for a bomb, swished it, and ran back down to D full of life. Fagan, just faster than anyone out there, had provided the pass and soon it was Jimenez with a bounce pass to Carranco, who was determined to stymie the Lady Falcs once and for all and barged to free throws. EHS would hit 9 of 12 in the second half from the line, correcting initial waywardness.
But Los Fresnos would just not yield. The homers cut it to 5 until Carranco made a superb open court play, bouncing a pass on the run from just inside midcourt, which a cruising Dominguez ran onto and converted at the dish. Then Carranco was tops again, stealing one and spinning on the dribble to draw a foul. She made one of two and it was a 10-point lead once again in this very tough muster all around. Good, what they needed. The well-played quarter ended with EHS having outlasted Los Fresnos, 20-15, for an 11-point bulge heading into the fourth.
At this stage, Salinas called for patience in the halfcourt sets, Fagan out front crossing over kid after kid in white, Jimenez jetting to the corners, Carranco roaming the lane consistently. But Los Fresnos banked in a lucky three, and would it be Upset City after all? They pulled to within 6 before Fagan found Jimenez open for a money three ball, off the motion and spread. Martinez and Fagan swooped in to force a tie-up, and later Carranco hustled back to foil a LF fast break. At 3:34, Fagan launched in her third triple of the night and EHS started, at long last, to pull away. Carranco popped in another trifecta and it was about done, as Edinburg had met a stern test in bi-district and showed why it is always a threat to win and win deep into the bracket.
“We improved our free throw shooting after the half, and that really helped,” said Salinas, who now began to prepare his team for United South, a newish perennial power of the last several years who beat the Lady Bobcats by 3 early in the season, non-district. “We may have been a little slow to start out, and Los Fresnos, they played very well. We went down 8-1 tonight but nobody panicked. I thought we picked it up in the second and into the third, Lucy hit some big threes, everyone responded to the challenge. They played the way we play, in this program, and I think everyone is on the same page in that respect. Every girl we put in knows her role, what they have to do.”