They said District 31-5A was going to be a dogfight, right? But this opener, it was, it was…positively priceless!
Edinburg welcomed Harlingen to town Tuesday to start the league marathon with a matchup of teams with a combined 20-2 record. It was so loud and crazy from the word go, the atmosphere so playoff-electric, that the game between old rivals couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Wrong. It was better.
After the Lady Cards took their measure for three quarters, leading by as much as 12 in the third, the Lady Bobcats champed up behind some trusted seniors and tore into Harlingen like a pack of crazed dogs. The result was a 26-8 finish, including 11-2 at the end for a 61-55 win that thrilled a big and busy group of fans on hand to kick off the 31-5A party.
Laura “LT” Torres, bothered early by a very fast Harlingen backcourt, responded in the second half by keying a defensive surge that stopped the smooth Lady Card pass-and-cut offense. She also ended with 24 points, including eight in the third as Coach Rachel Carmona’s club cut it to 3 after having trailed 47-35 at one stage.
Another real hero of the opener was Mimi Tigner, the soldier in the trenches who often goes unnoticed. Her toughness and opportunistic contributions at the right time saw the effort through, after it had looked like the team would lose. She had seven points, 10 rebounds, and a handful of super passes for assists.
The Lady Bobcats were more rugged in the second half after switching from their customary zone defense to a man look, in order to get more pressure on the Lady Cards. Tigner and soph Michellin Mercelita dominated the inside as EHS came from behind.
“The M&Ms, that’s us,” smiled Tigner afterward. “We all needed to just come out and play better. Maybe smarter. We were maybe a little rattled at first, or at least anxious, but Harlingen wanted to play tonight, they came out strong.”
Tigner, who went to the free-throw line eight times, led an aggressive group that shot 32 charity tosses, making 23; the finesse-based Lady Cards were 6 of 12 and that EHS ability to get to the line was one of the main differences in this grudge match.
“We just talked at the half and we decided to come out and re-focus, you know?” said Tigner, who launched herself into the belly of the Lady Card D in fearless fashion, colliding with her foes a number of times after the intermission and giving the Lady ‘Cats a real spark. “It was a pretty rough game out there, I got hit a few times. This is the way this league is, every game is going to be like this.”
Harlingen led from the beginning stages, 10-5 at one point behind crisp passes, quick legs, and the outstanding play of the Adams Sisters, Megan and Ashley. They hit the boards, harassed Torres and point guard Bianca Casas, and generally ruled the roost. It was 18-14 after one, visitor, and 33-29 at the half with the Adams pair scoring 17.
The Lady ‘Cats kept close through some awesome defense from Mercelita (12 points, 11 boards) who blocked four shots in the first quarter. Torres got hot late and finished the half with 12, but Harlingen was in good shape at the break.
NOW OR NEVER
Despite the determination to right the ship, EHS found the going still tough against Harlingen in the third and amid a series of turnovers, the home side fell behind 47-35 with less than three minutes to go in the period.
But then Torres started to take over.
Carmona says that she has an “intense ability to do her all” when the time is right. The coach might have added that LT is just too mean to lose. Though visibly tired, the senior star commandeered the best effort she’s made in some time, leaping on every Lady Card who even thought about touching the ball. Tigner too played at an All-Valley pitch. The result was the first extended stretch where EHS looked like EHS.
“They were definitely making us play their game,” said Carmona afterward. “I think I saw some doubt from our kids. But they settled down and did well after that. We switched to the man defense, and well, you know we don’t do ‘man’ much. But it worked. Mimi did so good tonight, she was huge for us. What I like about her is she listens. Really listens.”
After transferring from Econ two years ago, the experienced banger has turned up her game as a senior, averaging double figures in rebounds and continuing to amaze with a polished all-around package.
“I have gotten way more serious about basketball since I came to EHS,” noted the articulate forward. “Coach Carmona has really pushed me to improve, she’s one of the best coaches I have ever had.”
From 47-35, the Lady Bobcats caught fire and soon trailed by just one after two free throws by Mercelita. It was a 3-point Harlingen lead after three but all Lady ‘Cats from there. Casas recovered from a poor showing to nail some key jumpers, including one that gave EHS its first bulge since 5-3, at 54-53.
Outscoring Harlingen 15-6 in the fourth, the Red and Blue nailed down a terrific comeback win to advance to 12-1 for the year.
“I know my role on this team, and so does everyone else,” said Tigner. “I wanted to come out this year and play my best. We have a lot of good players on this team and even though some people think we play like individuals, that’s not true. We play as a team!”
Casas finished with 14 points, with a key jumper that made it 58-55 down the stretch. Torres was four for four from the line in the telltale fourth with the team taking 12 and making nine from the stripe.
NOTES: The Lady ‘Cats cooled off over the weekend, losing to Medina Valley and SA Antonian at the South San Tourney before Saturday’s action. They rebounded on the last day to pound city rival North 67-38 behind a super day from Torres (21 points, 10 rebounds, 13 steals, and five blocks) and great play from Mercelita (14 rebounds, eight blocks) and Casas (12 rebounds, 11 assists, seven steals).