One can say many things about the talented Bianca Casas, and perhaps the most complimentary is that the young sophomore knows her role with the Lady Bobcats. After all, Mickey Mantle had to wait on Joe Dimaggio in 1951, and Bobby Murcer had to cool his heels while Mantle ran down in 1968, as the center field greats of the New York Yankees followed each other by the generation.
So while Casas has definite basketball ability - and she showed that with a 20-point performance Tuesday in EHS’s 82-58 home win over Econ - she is also content to bide her time while the senior stars run the show.
“I’m still young, and I know it’s their time,” said Casas, after the 12th-grade trio of Trish Lopez, Yadi Salinas and Maddy Lopez combined for 52 points and 34 rebounds in a rough-and-tumble victory that brought the team to 4-0 in District 31-5A. “I do what I can to help them out. Sometimes I’m like, ‘I’m here too,’ but really, I am happy to be a part of it…that’s good enough for me right now.”
Wise words from a heads-up kid who can really play the game, in more ways than one. Casas came up to the varsity as a freshman last year after impressing the coaches with her court sense and hustle. After she tied a career high in points Tuesday, Coach Rachel Carmona was all smiles about her future star.
“She did good, she’s really picked up her game,” said Carmona, whose bunch has now won 21 times and is looking like the dynasty squads of old. “It’s good, she needs to be an offensive threat for us to take some pressure of the big girls inside.”
After knocking down an early three-pointer (she leads the team with 11 this year), Casas and fellow sophomore Laura Torres turned up the defensive pressure, and the jolt was monumental, as EHS overcame a 24-18 deficit with 20 straight points to blow this one out and lead by 12 at the half.
“We came out a little slow, but once we got warmed up, it was OK,” said the ferocious soph, who also passed off for five assists, keeping her head on a swivel while bringing the ball up, and not hesitating to find the open man. She’s done that all year. “This was one of my best games, I think that because I have been playing this game for so long, it helps me focus.”
She’s been hooping it up since the sixth grade, and says that Maddy Lopez, the team’s leader at point guard, has been a big influence.
“We played together a long time ago, back on a traveling team,” she explained.
The young comer and her mates now face the ultimate challenge. The season has been super so far, but now comes the real test. After a road win at Pharr North Friday, the Lady Jags were set for an invasion Tuesday by the Valley’s No. 1-ranked team, Harlingen South, a nemesis they have not beaten in two seasons.
“I’m really excited about it,” Casas emoted. “I think we are ready to play them, and I am going to go all out. I believe we can win that game!”
The Lady Jags, coming off a three-point loss to North in which they shot just 8 of 33 from the free-throw line, were determined to show that they had what it took to compete with the Lady ‘Cats. Also at stake was a possible end to a 0-3 start in district, uncharacteristic for a team that had been playoff-bound the past two campaigns.
And though they were hot early, Edinburg matched them every step out of the box. Becky Diaz, who would score 17 on the night, popped a three to begin, but Casas came right back down and threw in a rainbow for the tie. Then, Econ senior Shay Hernandez, who compiled a season-best 26 Tuesday, sank a trey, but that was followed by one from Torres.
That’s the way the bang-bang first period went, in one of the best eight-minute stretches either unit has mustered all slate. The Lady Jags were sharp with their passes and Hernandez contributed 10 quick ones.
There were two troubling aspects to the first quarter, which ended with Econ up, 24-20, and one aspect produced the other. The Lady Bobcats, enjoying a size and experience advantage inside, pounded the ball constantly down low, and thus were in the bonus seemingly instantly.
The Econ bench complained consistently about the referees, and at times, might have had a point. But with Trish Lopez and Salinas smashing their way past the smaller Econ kids, the Lady ‘Cats kept pace. The visitor piled up the fouls, and Edinburg went 9 of 11 from the line in the half, with Econ making just 5 of 13.
And the pace was hot, another factor in EHS’s favor, as it is a high-scoring bunch that has now tallied 80 points or more in seven separate outings. Conversely, the Lady Jags are a slowdown quint that relies on keeping the numbers low and finding a way to execute and win down the stretch.
Though Kelly Garrett’s squad (now 9-16 overall) got inspired play from gritty junior Mireya Galvan in the early going, post Crystal Montano was in foul trouble from the start trying to guard the Twin Towers. The Lady Jags built a 26-22 lead soon after the second began, but then the quickness of the game carried them into Danger City.
It started on defense for the Lady ‘Cats, who got a dozen blocked shots on the night. More often than not, when Trish Lopez or Salinas tapped away an Econ shot (they combined for 10 stuffs), Torres, Maddy Lopez or Casas was off to the races at the other end to convert in transition. Sometimes in tandem or trio.
“That’s what we do, we just keep running, and sooner or later it catches up with the other team,” said Casas, who netted six points in the second-quarter bolt that put the visitor to sleep. “We got behind but we weren’t worried at all. We knew we could still win.”
Meagan Garcia had tossed in a pair of clutch baseline shots for the Jags but then EHS took command, as three straight steals or blocks led to hoops at the other end. Salinas, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, about her average this season, made a series of nice looks, showing that the EHS Bigs can give it up when the situation arises.
By the time Econ called a desperation timeout at 5:48, it was 31-26 EHS, after Salinas found a cutting Torres for two.
From there, Edinburg kept defending and scoring, while the Lady Jags lost their composure a bit, understandably. Torres went to the floor to control a defensive board and flipped the ball up to Maddy Lopez (15 points, flawless floor game), who started yet another fastbreak opportunity that gained a bucket downcourt.
A supercharged EHS put 20 in a row on the board until finally, Hernandez ended the streak with a conversion. But by then, it was 42-28 at 2:37 of the period.
Econ rallied somewhat after getting blitzed, cutting the margin to nine at one point in the second half, as Hernandez and Diaz scored 19 of the team’s 24 in the last 16 minutes. But Trish Lopez (19 points, 18 rebounds) started taking it to the goal with force, and her layup in traffic extended the lead to 11 at 50-39. The Lady Jags never managed to get under the magic 10-point mark in the last 12 minutes.
“We did a good job tonight, getting the momentum our way after a slow start,” said Carmona, who hopes that this senior-led group has what it takes to return to the winner’s circle for the first time in three seasons, after having taken six titles in a row up to 2006-07. “We ran the floor and passed well in transition. But we’ll see how it goes Tuesday, that’s what’s in front of us.”
Tuesday, Jan. 13
P-SJ-A Memorial at North; EHS at Harlingen South;
P-SJ-A at Econ
Friday, Jan. 16
North at EHS;
Econ at P-SJ-A Memorial
Tuesday Jan. 13
North at PM; Harl South at EHS; Econ at P-SJ-A
Friday, Jan 16
EHS at North; P-SJ-A Memoral at Econ