Don’t toss the game film on the bonfire just yet, because like the Good Book suggests, the most enduring lessons come from mistakes and not successes.
When Pharr North and Economedes hooked it up Tuesday to start the 31-5A season (already?) they both wanted to get off to a good start in league play. They’ve each been either in or close to in, playoff-wise, in recent years, and as most district coaches seem to be lining up for third or fourth place behind powers Harlingen South and Edinburg (22-3 combined starting action Tuesday), this one was going to be somewhat important for the sake of momentum.
North (1-0, 11-6) claimed a 39-33 win, overcoming an epidemic of traveling calls by sinking 8 of 12 free throws in the fourth. The Lady Raiders owned the offensive boards and their quick, stocky guards ruled the roost.
Econ (0-1, 7-8) was all over the map Tuesday, with bad shots, rushed passes and shaky defense. It was not a good performance from a team that can do better, and Coach Kelly Garrett stalked off the court when it was done, no doubt en route to what probably ended up being an, um, interesting post-game address to her weary Lady Jags.
But again, it’s way early, and both teams will surely take this trying contest as a learning experience.
North’s Jim Post, in his 35th season as a coach, third at the school, was able to put it into perspective.
“They say it’s OK if it’s ugly, as long as you win,” said the man who started in the business back in the early 1970s, coaching on both the college and high school levels in Kansas and Missouri before arriving in the Valley. He’s been at Sharyland, P-SJ-A, Hidalgo and now North in a peripatetic career.
FITS AND STARTS
This year’s Lady Raider quint is small by Class 5A standards, but relatively active, with a senior backcourt of Debbie Martinez and Kim Alegria backed by hustling machine Jeanette Avitia at wing, another 12th-grader. Those kids were off and running in the first period, with Martinez converting a slick reverse layup against two defenders, for a three-point play after the late hack.
The Lady Jags were out of sync from the opening tap, throwing the ball away against North pressure and missing the open looks they got. Alegria broke their press with some speedy straight-ahead dribbles, and the Lady Raiders broke out to a 13-6 lead after one, with lanky soph Stephanie Nunez canning a pair of jumpers.
Econ has looked promising at times this season but did not look for the open man much Tuesday, settling for forced shots against a swarming defense. Senior star Shay Hernandez (team-high 11 points but six turnovers) missed a 1-on-2 layup, and then she and Mireya Galvan threw passes away in a frustrating beginning for the home side.
Luckily, senior Crystal Montano came on to stop the madness, hitting a short J in the lane and on the next trip tossing an offensive rebound out to Lory Martinez, who drained a three-pointer to cut the margin to three at 14-11.
North then put seven in a row on the board as sophomore post Victoria Chapa dominated action in the second quarter with six points and seven rebounds. But just when it looked like the Lady Raiders were going to run away with it, Hernandez came alive with a great pass to Daniela Gaitan inside and then a drive for two in the final seconds. Halftime: North 21, Econ 15.
“We should have had a big lead at the half but we didn’t,” complained Post. “And after that, we never did really get it going again.”
After a poor first half, fundamentals-wise, the teams regained their composure somewhat in the third quarter. Martinez made another swift and strong drive to the basket for a hoop and senior Sam Ruiz, another of the veterans on the team with playoff experience, started to work the offensive glass, where North held a distinct advantage all night, 20 to 8.
Meanwhile, the Lady Jags were still misfiring from the field, but per Garrett’s instruction, began to slow the effort down to work for high-percentage tries. Still, when Melody Olivarez bounced a smart pass to a cutting Shermee Tigner, the latter bungled the chippie underneath, though she scored moments later off an assist from her half-sister, Hernandez.
The sophomore Tigner is a rugged rebounder, and she led the Lady Jags with nine in the district opener, with North’s Ruiz enjoying a Ben Wallace-type night with 14 boards but no points.
North let Econ hang around, and when Hernandez converted off a slick inbounds pick play, it was just 27-23, Black. But Avitia, whom Post says has been his most consistent player so far in 2008-09, got loose for two baskets and a 31-26 lead after three. Avitia walked six times on the night, but on balance her effort was positive, as she registered 10 points and seven rebounds to counteract the turnover tendency.
As she’d done at the end of the second, Hernandez drove for a basket in the closing seconds of the third to keep Econ in the fight.
She tallied again to make it 31-28 as the last frame commenced, and in response the Lady Raiders slowed the ball down a bit to take advantage of its guard prowess. Econ forced a steal by Tigner but the sophomore missed two free throws after being fouled on the play, as the Lady Jags suffered through a simply dismal shooting nightmare.
Becky Diaz, the team’s leading returning scorer, spent much of the night getting slapped around by the physical backcourt tandem of North, but she is a tough cookie who can score. She would put in five points down the stretch as the Lady Jags eventually cut the score to 35-33 on her awesome flying runner in traffic. That hoop at the two-minute mark positioned the team as close as it had been since a 2-2 knot early in the first, but the Orange would get no nearer the summit.
Ruiz pulled down three offensive rebounds in the final three minutes, and the Lady Raiders made their free throws to ice the win. Nunez drew a vital charge on Hernandez with 54 seconds left and the homers blew a fine chance when Diaz’s steal and quick pass to Martinez resulted in a miss from under the bucket.
Alegria made three of four charity tosses, to score five of her six in the fourth period for the Lady Raiders, who play McAllen Rowe at The University of Texas-Pan American Saturday night and then take on rival P-SJ-A Memorial on the road Tuesday.
“I think we can compete in this district,” said Post after the victory. “We aren’t that big this year and we haven’t shot the ball yet like we have in years past. But I think with this team, we have a chance to make the playoffs.”
NOTES: In tournament action over the weekend, the Lady Bobcats of EHS (11-4) suffered a second-round setback against Hidalgo in the BISD Classic and ended the tourney Saturday with a loss against Brownsville Lopez.
Econ went from the loss against North to a 20-point beating at the hands of McAllen Memorial over the weekend.