The tournament was a go, at least for a day, but humidity invaded the gyms Tuesday night, fogging and slicking the floors and signaling an interruption. The summer league basketball title hangs in the balance, to be decided this week, by Wednesday, after preparation for Hurricane Alex caused the abatement of action.
Both North and Econ were on at EHS Tuesday, back to back in fact, and each team showed glimpses of high-caliber play in winning first-round matches. First the Cougars, who beat back a number of challenges from a pesky Mercedes squad to win 61-54. Aaron Beltran and Hector Garza scored 13 apiece as North got out to a pair of 11-point leads in the first half; the sophomore Beltran penetrated and passed well while senior Garza battled hard underneath.
Mercedes rallied to within five at the half led by senior Jonathan Ayala, the football receiver, who would end up with 24 points.
Beltran, a long and lean star in the making, nailed a follow shot and a three-pointer to begin the second half and the Coogs surged to another 11-point lead on a bomb from Mando Peralta.
It got dicey down the stretch as the Tigers pressed North into several turnovers, carving the deficit to three. But two Peralta free throws and a pair from Beltran sealed the deal for the Coogs, who have followed a solid showing in the Pharr spring league with a creditable performance in the summer.
In the nightcap, the Jags weathered a terrible beginning, as they fell behind Lincoln-Juarez 7-0 before waking up a bit. They were not ready to play and bickered among each other as Lincoln went to town.
Luckily, the groove was established by John Barrientos, who would tally 19 points to pace his team. The junior-to-be started in a daze but soon got rolling from the high post, hitting mid-range jumpers and crashing the boards. Teammates Jorge Zuniga (11 points) and Christian Zuniga (11 also) also pitched in with quality outings as the Orange took control in the second half.
Down six at the half, Econ grabbed the lead at 28-27 with a Barrientos three-pointer and ended the third period up three after a Jorge Zuniga trifecta. Another long one, from Christian Zuniga, made it a five-point margin and the Jags held on at the close to post the victory.
In advancing to the second round, the Jags moved the ball well and began to slice their way through the Lion defense helped by Barrientos, who appears poised to emerge as one of the Valley’s best big men. He has the quickness to get past slower defenders and his eye for the open man is terrific. As Econ looks to follow last season’s breakout performance that netted 17 wins and a playoff spot, JB is the main man in the attack, for sure.