Last year it was the turning point of the program rise to playoff participant for the first time since 2005. In 2010, it was a little more complicated.
Before Econ took on Palmview Friday afternoon to start its portion of the annual Craig Smith Tournament, Coach Lalo Rios had spoken to the unit’s recent rollercoaster. Though Econ had begun 3-1, not everything was quite right yet.
“We had that team meeting this week, you know, the one every team has to have at least once a season,” Rios said. “We have had a hard time keeping humble so far this year, frankly, we have tasted success but right now at times we are just going through the motions.”
The coach noted that after surprising the Valley last season with 17 wins, the Jags have been up and down in 2010-11.
“We just have to play like we’re hungrier and I think the kids realize that,” he said before his team went into a rematch with the Lobos, having beaten them 61-56 to start the year. “This tournament last year, we won a trophy for the first time in a long while, and it really got us going. We made the playoffs and then we knew were good. Now, we have to play the same way going forward. So we had a good meeting, and let’s see how it goes.”
The Jags fought hard all the way, finally succumbing 66-64, as faulty free-throw shooting and sketchy interior defense were problems. The loss relegated the Orange to the consolation bracket of the Smith.
Palmview is a relatively new program with some good-looking athletes, including scoring machine Mario de la Garza and 6-foot-5 big Dominique Garza. The Lobos came out on fire Friday, hitting four three-pointers early on and turning a three-point deficit into a 7-point lead after one.
Junior J.J. Velasquez, who had scored 45 points the last two games, got it going in the second, and the Jags battled back, narrowing the margin to five at the half after Palmview led at one point by 11.
Palmview, with de la Garza and Garza having great games (they scored 21 each), assumed another 11-point lead at 41-30, but Econ again rallied, with Velasquez tossing in 11 points in the third. The Jags scored 10 in a row at one stage and led 46-44 after a three-point play inside from Jesus Gonzalez with 1:24 left in the quarter.
It was nip and tuck the rest of the way with the Lobos leading until junior John Barrientos (12 points), who was in foul trouble most of the second half, tied matters at 60 apiece with 1:54 to play.
With under a minute to go, Gonzalez’ free throw gave Rios’ bunch a 64-63 advantage, but Palmview’s Mark de la Garza stroked a trey for the final margin. Econ had a shot at the end but Velasquez (25 points) missed a long jumper that would have won it.
For the game, the Jags made just eight of 18 from the stripe, and allowed the rangy Garza too much room to operate inside. Gonzalez finished with 13 points and eight rebounds while Ricky Cantu had 10 and eight.
NOTES: Econ was set to take on Mission Tuesday on the road and then prepare for the Diamondback Classic at Sharyland over the weekend. The Jags rebounded Saturday for a 45-40 win against San Benito to finish the tournament on a positive note.