It’s like the radio deejay in the ’70s, the one who used to croon at us, “The hits keep a’comin’ coast to coast, baby!” Just when you think The Rivalry, with all its attendant bitterness, recriminations, and intercity acrimony, has taken a siesta for the languid summer, it returns with a bullet. DOUBLE TIME!
As the summer league basketball season finally came to a close Wednesday, after a week’s delay due to Hurrican’t Alex, who should be waiting for one another on opposite sides of the bracket but EHS and North. Not just for the boys’ title, but for the girls’ too, offering the sort of crazy internecine business one can expect from a regular-season winter doubleheader. Too good, man, too good. Forget about the Summertime Blues, this was solid gold all the way.
NIGHT OF FIGHTS
Chalk up one laugher and one Instant Classic as the EHS boys turned a 17-all tie into a 17-point run and an eventual 66-42 rout. The girls engaged in a brutal match that went down to the proverbial wire, EHS taking the tape 57-54 in one of the best summer struggles in recent memory. The ladies actually went first at EHS, after each team had won semi-final games earlier in the evening.
To get here, North had rushed out to a 15-2 lead over rival Harlingen South only to see the Lady Hawks storm back to get to within two at 28-26. A bushel of key steals and hoops from ferocious sophomore Larissa Arriola gave the momentum back for a seven-point win.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bobcats did not play well against P-SJ-A but still managed a 20-point win, which tells you something.
The girls had the better part of an hour to recover from the semis (gee, thanks), and started slowly in the title game, understandably. Then two stars took over, with Laura Torres of EHS and Vicky Pena of North showing why they will probably end up on the All-Valley Team together. They took turns dazzling the crowd with headlong drives to the basket (LT) and smooth forays to the tin in traffic (VP).
North assumed a 16-12 advantage after one with Pena, a very underrated passer, finding the open teammate with ease and also knocking down a three-pointer. Sharmee Tigner was a beast down low for the Lady ‘Cats with six rebounds in the first period while Bianca Casas, playing through an illness, was sharp up top.
The shifty, slimmed-down Pena was able to penetrate at will for 10 points in the half, but North started taking too many long shots (Arriola suffered through an awful shooting half) and EHS took command, Torres scoring eight in the second.
The key to the half, which ended with a 5-point EHS lead, was inside play, with Vianey Salinas bothered by constant harassment down low and the Lady ‘Cats pushing to the free-throw line with regularity. EHS would make 21 of 27 free throws on the night with North taking just 10, making six; the Red and Blue was more aggressive and it showed, as a 15-5 run to close the half turned a 21-16 hole into a 31-26 bulge at the much-needed break.
EHS charged out to a 35-26 lead as two run-outs from Torres banged North into the Danger Zone. But the Lady Coogs, fresh off their trip to the Sweet 16 in the winter, feel that they are the odds-on fave to win the district this year, and promptly put an 8-point run up to get back into it. Pena broke LT’s ankles on a wicked crossover on the way to an unmolested layup while Dani Vargas and Annie Badillo set each other up for open shots back to back.
It was 42-38, EHS after three with Torres (21 points, eight boards) converting a pair of three throws (she was 12 of 15 from the stripe) at the end. Soph Michellin Mercelita, perhaps the key to the 2010-11 puzzle, had completed a three-point play for a 40-37 lead earlier.
The fourth quarter was just great basketball between two Top 5 teams bent on breaking the enemy’s will. It came down to execution, and the Lady ‘Cats were better at running the offense and getting sure looks.
Newcomer Patty Hernandez played a prominent role for them, as she passed well, hit the glass, and scored inside for a 47-45 lead after Salinas (nine points, 13 caroms in an off night) tied it inside.
Then the Lady ‘Cats patiently ran the set and eventually spotted sharpshooting Stephanie Nunez in the left corner: the spindly senior nailed a clutch bomb for some breathing room at 50-45 at the 4:29 mark. However, North soon regained the lead at 51-50, its first since 21-20, on a money three-ball from Vargas.
Hard-working Dora Ureste, who will certainly be a vital contributor this season as she has improved greatly, made one of two from the line and a 52-50 edge inside the final two minutes. But EHS came right back with a Casas feed to Tigner.
After Casas made two free tosses it was Ureste again, getting loose on the blocks for a deuce and a 54-all game. But Three free throws and a steal by Nunez on Pena made the difference, and the Lady Bobcats had sent a message.
“They were slashing us before the game, saying they were going to be district champs this season,” reported Torres, who never, ever, shies away from contact or controversy. “There were some thing said, and it upset us. But we wanted it more at the end, we proved something tonight, I think.”
LT noted that after last season’s high-flying rush to the Sweet 16 (along with good buddy North, of course), the Lady ‘Cats have gotten used to Crunch Time.
“We have gained a lot of experience in the slowdown, getting good shots at the end of the game when the pressure’s on,” she said. “We try not to force it, we have learned to relax at key times, and our chemistry this year is going to be the best it’s ever been. This was a tough game, everyone was getting beat up, but we read each other out there, we know what to do and we did it.”
The boys’ game may not have been remotely as close, but the intensity was there. North came in after having rallied from 12 down to beat P-SJ-A in double overtime in the semis, and had its sights set on an upset. EHS meanwhile, had four of the Valley’s top athletes in the lineup and its only slight doubts about the upcoming campaign center on building depth in search of league title number five in a row.
North’s hustling Hector Garza was chased from the fray after receiving two technical fouls during a particularly heated sequence, illustrating that summer or not, these two teams were ready to kick some butt.
Still, with superb soph Aaron Beltran throwing in seven early points, the Coogs looked solid, climbing into a 14-13 lead on a rising lay from Jhared Weems. EHS got a drops-right-in downtowner from superstar Aaron Olvera (22 points and eight rebounds when the carnage was over) and then put 17 points on the board in the second, with Olvera getting nine and Stevie Guerrero four.
Harassing the Coogs into frequent turnovers, the Bobcats steamed out in front and never looked back, as Cord Arriola notched a dozen points, Guerrero finishing with 16 and seven boards, and Phillip de la Rosa leading the defensive magnet.
Though they got some promising play inside from 6-foot-5 Kerry Williams and some late boardwork from leaper Brandon Davila, the Coogs self-destructed against the withering EHS press and could not compete after the big run.