PHARR -- Folks shouldn’t be that surprised, actually, since this group of super sophs won the district as freshman last year. But the varsity level is another world, some people cautioned.
Yes, and still, after losing basically the whole team to graduation, and looking very thin heading into 2011, the inexperienced but talented Jags are hanging in and preparing to fight for a playoff spot on the last night of the regular season. Econ took care of business here Friday night, banging out a 3-1 victory over Pharr North to keep pace with Edinburg North. The two rivals were set to battle for the last 31-5A postseason berth Tuesday out east, and even though the Jags will not post their seventh league title in a row, they have shown that the next few years could be just as satisfying as the streak of crowns past.
It is a tall, loose-limbed crew, but that will change in time with growth and maturity. Coach Sam Gonzalez hopes that his youngsters keep their incredible team speed and fire while individual kids gain seasoning and grow stronger. If that happens, look out 31-5A, because if this team was this good with 80 percent sophomores, and if the JV won the league this season (which it did), it may be a return to the El Grande Orange in 2012.
Shorthanded because of Spring Break and some player defections that have trimmed the roster somewhat, the Jags endured Friday against the Raiders, a bottom feeder this season. It was not as impressive a performance as the one they made in a 1-0 loss against EHS two weeks back, but it was enough to win the points.
The Jags are perhaps the fastest transition team in 31-5A. Friday illustration: defender Brandon Bernabel started a play with a sizzling through ball that traveled 40 yards on a line, and it was picked up by Jesus Gonzalez, who dropped off to a trailing Alonzo Aranda; the latter’s shot missed at 28:40 of the first but the sequence illustrated how fast the Jags can get into the mix.
Aranda, who has been up and down this year but is highly regarded as a ballhander, needs to learn when to hold and when to fold. But there is no doubt he can sweet-foot it, and he showed some crazy skills in a rather dull half.
Two minutes later, Econ followed the surge with a winner, as Gonzalez controlled left on goal and sent one back right to cross the keeper for a 1-0 advantage at 26:41.
North did not muster much against the quicker visitor until 14:00, but on a sudden try inside, spindly Juan Gonzalez blocked a shot try with a kick-away.
There then occurred a stunning bang-bang effect early in the second half, with the Jags getting two goals and Raiders one in a 90-second span, and one will seldom see such rapid-fire shooting success. After that, slower-paced soccer, with the Jags holding on for the result; now they see how the win-or-go-home match with North goes Tuesday.
Gonzalez said that he would like to make the playoffs this year, so that the new kids can see how a team is rewarded when it sticks with the program and works hard all campaign long. Either way, though, he knows that when 2012 rolls around, he will have a supremely confident and magnificently talented team to work with. Right now, 2011 is gravy all the way.
“The kids have nothing to lose,” he noted, “because everyone expected us to be bad. Now we may just end up in the playoffs against Lopez, and you know what ... these young guys probably don’t know they’re supposed to be scared. Anything can happen when they come out to play their best. The future is going to be good, trust me on that.”