It's been a few years since Kelly Garrett had a top contender, but the Econ coach has never missed a beat during the interim, working hard with her girls and engendering a positive, beneficial work environment. This year, the Lady Jags have some veterans, and in the early going are shooting the ball better than they did last year. They've also got the coolest little freshman point guard around.
It all may add up to something good before 2011-12 is over, if Tuesday's narrow loss to San Benito at home is an indication. The Lady Jags fought hard the whole way, and when they got two free throws from senior Rachel Rodriguez with 28 seconds to go, led 42-41.
But the Lady Greyhounds, an absolutely gargantuan club with four 6-footers, scored inside after that, and senior Yvette Garza missed a shot from the right side before the buzzer, final score, 43-42 visitor.
Garrett was pleased with the play of her returning starters, including Rodriguez, who had a very effective night with seven points, seven rebounds, and some hard work underneath against the San Benny trees.
"Rachel makes up for her lack of size with hustle and anticipation," said the coach, whose team led most of the first half against a group that has been in the playoffs the past few seasons. "She did a good job and I thought the defense overall was strong tonight."
Other familiar faces are athletic Kenia Gonzalez, who hit a huge three-pointer down the stretch; leading scorer Garza, a smart player; gutty Stephanie Escobedo; and versatile gamer Blanca Barrientos.
The New Kid is Emily Suarez, a promising freshman with mad ball-handling skills. She is the tiniest thing one will ever see on a varsity court at maybe 4-foot-8, but she can go, make no mistake about it.
"It's good for our girls to get to play with Emily because she creates a lot of opportunities for teammates out there," said Garrett, a super point guard during her playing days. "She is going to be something when she gets used to the varsity level."
Suarez was hot out of the box Tuesday with five quick points and her team led 7-2. But the Lady ‘Hounds dominated the glass after that, going on a 10-2 spurt keyed by nine offensive rebounds.
Econ rallied with movement off the ball, making sharp cuts to the goal and receiving passes from the diminutive Suarez out front. The Orange held a 1-point advantage after one and at the half; they got to the line 12 times in the second period, their active running paying dividends in the form of fouls from the slower foe.
San Benito took a 37-32 lead early in the fourth before Garza hit a three and Escobedo scored off a turnover with a pull-up jumper in the lane. Later, with SB on top by 2, Gonzalez banked in a trifecta to make it 40-39, Lady Jags and down the road, Rodriguez battled her way to the line, making two for a 1-point lead.
In the end, San Benito's superior size, which had been neutralized in the second half (plus-14 on the boards at the half, 11-11 afterward) with Rodriguez banging effectively, won out. The Kassy Sanchez putback came at the last minute; the Lady Jags ran it up and called timeout with 0:05 left.
Garza, on her birthday, was almost the hero, making a nice move to the right to get open. But her shot barely missed.
"We went cold shooting in the third quarter and that hurt us," said Garrett as her girls looked to the Border Bash in McAllen over the weekend. "They changed their defense on us and for awhile we just couldn't make a shot. The girls played bigger than they are tonight, that's what they had to do against a really big San Benito team. It was a good effort for us."
NOTES: Econ (5-9) then went 1-4 at the Border Bash, with the lone triumph coming over Laredo United South. North (9-6) won twice in the early going before losing to Hidalgo and El Paso Coronado (by three). The Lady Coogs finished off the tourney with a 59-41 decision over McAllen.
EHS (7-4) and the rest begin District 31-5A play Tuesday, with the Lady Bobcats facing a road test against highly rated Harlingen.