Greg Selber

He knew it wasn’t going to be easy in the early going, and he was right. But Zeke Cuellar’s seen a lot of seasons in his time, and he knows that if the Bobcats can learn from their preseason journey, they’ll be just fine come district time.

Edinburg dropped to 8-5 for the season Dec. 22, losing at home by 11 to Weslaco after leading late in the third quarter. It marked the team’s second loss to the Panthers this year, after they surrendered 22 straight points, making a 42-39 lead into a 61-42 deficit against the experienced Mid-Valley crew (15-4).

Cuellar, in his first season after replacing long-time coach Joe Filoteo, saw the good and the bad against Weslaco, and that’s the way it’s been all year.

“We played pretty well through three quarters, until we lost our focus,” he said, after the 68-57 Bobcat defeat. “We started taking bad shots, forcing them up, and so we tried to spread it out and space the players a little better.”

To that stage, the Bobcats had engaged a fine Weslaco team on even terms, but the strong late surge by the Panthers was too much for them to weather. EHS also has losses to Brownsville Hanna, Sharyland and Laredo Alexander, with two other victories against Sharyland and a big decision over McAllen Memorial. In the losses, the ‘Cats have had trouble finding the right offensive flow and keeping it going for four quarters.

“Some of our kids need to understand what they’re out there for, to play as a team and find the open man,” said Cuellar, who added that with so many new faces on the roster in 2008-09, this sort of feeling-out process was expected. “We always play a tough schedule, and that will help the team figure out what it needs to do. Today we did well until that dry spell, and Weslaco came on, they got back into the game when we quit cutting and moving.”

Edinburg outscored its foe 15-7 down the stretch, as senior Jaime Acuna was a man possessed on defense, making a number of steals to try and rally his squad. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and was averaging a team-best 19.0 after a dozen games.

But fellow senior Chris Flores continues to struggle the past few weeks, after a lights-out start. Flores hit for 23.5 the first six contests but then suffered a finger injury that has affected his shooting; in the last five games Flores (17.4 per game overall) has put up just 12 a night, and was held to seven Monday by a physical and deep Weslaco bunch.

“He’s been having a tough time lately, but I think he’ll pull his way out of it,” commented Cuellar, who has worked a series of sophomores into the mix this winter in search of the right combinations. In particular, 6-foot-3 Marquis Holiday and 5-7 Phillip De la Rosa have been impressive.

A third sophomore, point guard Aaron Olvera, has shown flashes of brilliance in averaging 14.1 through 12 games. He tossed in eight straight points early against Weslaco, with swift and unstoppable drives to the goal. But Olvera (14 points, five boards) began to try and do too much, as sophomores will, and he was a non-factor in the second half, sitting for significant stretches on the bench.

“By the time district comes, he will have learned better decision-making,” said Cuellar, who noted that he is still looking for the strong inside presence on this season’s roster. Derrick East, Hugo Ramos and Julius Flores have combined for just eight points per game, as the ‘Cats have had to rely on perimeter play most of the time. “I think a lot of these kids, because of the experience they are getting right now in tough games, will show their learning when district comes. That’s the way it usually works out.”

The Bobcats traveled to Corpus Christi for the Calallen Christmas Classic over the weekend, and will open District 31-5A play Saturday, Jan. 3 at home against P-SJ-A. Then they have Econ on the road the following Tuesday. The Jags and North Cougars face each other Saturday, Jan. 3 at North, at 3 p.m., as each team wants to start league play off with a bang.