MISSION — It is the mark of a champ: versatility, and it means that when one star is down, the other members of the group pick up the slack.
With leading scorer Aaron Olvera hobbling around with a bladder infection that limited his ability to twist and turn, a host of other Bobcats came through in the finals of the Diamondback Classic Saturday, leading EHS (12-0) to a 67-57 win over host Sharyland.
Economedes lost its last game at the tourney, to Weslaco, while North expired in the consolation title game.
For EHS, senior Stevie “Blue Eyes” Guerrero went off for a season-best 24 points to lead the way, while forward Nick McAllif was very solid with 10 points and six rebounds for the unbeaten Bobcats, who aced a tourney field for the second weekend in a row, following their Craig Smith trophy with one at the Diamondback.
The ‘Cats trailed just once, at 16-15, before winning against a Sharyland team with some size and plenty of fight. Edinburg’s ability to drive the ball into the teeth of the Rattler D was the linchpin in this one, as the ‘Cats made 21 of 33 free throws, Guerrero especially being active on the drive.
The football quarterback took it to the rack from the start, scoring nine times from the stripe in the first half, after which EHS led 36-28. That and some timely inside play from McAllif and 6-foot-5 Noe Espericueta (10 rebounds) was enough to make up for the fact that Cord Arriola was plagued by foul trouble and Olvera by his ailment.
Sharyland got to within five four times in the third quarter but at each stage the Bobcats had the answer, as their halfcourt passing was superb and their defense sound. Olvera played through the pain to make some big plays down the stretch, including a loose ball tip to McAllif on the defensive boards and a save of an errant ball as well.
“This thing just kind of came on me this morning,” said Olvera, who scored 10 and won the tourney MVP despite the sickness. “I couldn’t really bend or extend well at all. But Nick came on and played well, he can run with us and when he’s in there we have a small player down low who is not weak at all.”
This year’s Bobcat bunch has more size than in the past, and is comfortable in the halfcourt set. The running game of year’s past can still get cranking at times, but the offense is doing well without it so far. Guerrero, who played down low most of last year, has been freed up to play outside with Espericueta and Gabe Rivas at the 5 spot and McAliff at 4 or 5.
“We can put two different kinds of teams out there, a small one and a bigger one,” said Olvera, who nailed three free throws in the fourth period as EHS held off a determined Rattler squad in preps for a trip back to Sharyland Tuesday; it’s a non-district rematch with the men of Coach David Keith, a former EHS star in the 1990s. “I know we are going to need some that size when it comes playoff time, too.”
Senior Philip de la Rosa, who sat out Friday’s action with a strained groin, came back to the lineup for the final, and he was the man early on with a three-pointer, another hoop, and several nice passes and defensive moments. Arriola, who joined Guerrero on the All-Tourney team, managed eight points in limited time due to fouls as EHS played a tight rotation of six or seven kids most of the way.
After a first-round win over San Benito Thursday, the Bobcats came out the next day and exacted a measure of revenge against a Weslaco unit that had defeated it twice last season. In a rough and at times chippy affair, EHS withstood the Panthers’ best shot early to cruise to an 81-55 victory.
Olvera scored a combined 40 points in the two wins, with Guerrero adding 29 and Arriola 31.
Then it was a try against Laredo United South, and the ‘Cats broke out to a 12-0 lead and never trailed in a 72-61 win. They extended to a 25-point margin in the second half before the Panthers went on a 20-2 run against the reserves. Cuellar reinserted the starters late, but the result was never in doubt with twin posts Espericueta and Rivas totaling 21 points and 12 rebounds.
De la Rosa sat out the second Friday tilt, with Jon Gonzalez filling in with six first-half markers. Olvera made a trio of three-point shots in each of the three victories leading to the Sharyland game.
ECON’S TOURNEY ROAD
The Jags started the tourney with a relatively easy 25-point win over Valley View but ran into a determined Laredo United South club Friday, losing a first-half lead and then the game, 64-56.
John Barrientos and J.J. Velasquez scored 15 apiece as the Orange overcame a slow start to lead by three at the half paced by pressure defense on the perimeter. Velasquez, averaging nearly 17 per game this year, had notched a game-high 21 versus Valley View
The Panthers caught them in the third with hustle and spacing, while Econ’s interior D was loose and slow to react to the drives and dishes for threes. Ricky Cantu pulled the Jags to within five at 58-53 late, but the Panthers held serve to close it out, sending Econ into a later match with Weslaco East.
A win against United South would have given the team a showdown against eventual tourney champ EHS. As it stood, the Jags beat Weslaco East in overtime and then wrapped up the event Saturday with a win against Idea Academy and then the loss to the Panthers.
North limped through the Diamondback at less than full strength after an ankle injury to Aaron Beltran and a lingering hamstring problem kept Sam Cavazos out of action again. The Coogs will also be without leading scorer Jhared Weems, who is on the side for at least a month due to an unspecified discipline problem.
The Coogs started with a loss against Hidalgo Thursday but rebounded to win twice Friday to get into the final day encounter against Harlingen South.