When they had the chance midway home, they grabbed the lead, and unlike last year, held it all the way. The Jags of Econ, scoring their second official win of the summer league season Monday night, took out EHS 63-55, withstanding each Bobcat run and looking every bit like a serious District 31-5A title contender in the process.
The Jags, seeking to bounce back from last year’s downer of a season, have the old confidence back. Last season they struggled to stay focused and protect the ball, but Monday in running the halfcourt offense to perfection, they looked like the seasoned team they should be.
Their big kids hit the boards and defended, while the guards thoroughly outplayed Edinburg’s inexperienced group. The result was an 8-point win, after Econ had flown out of the gates hard to start the third, turning a 3-point halftime advantage into a 13-point bulge midway through.
It is a peppy, senior-dominated lineup, and star post John Barrientos, who had 10 points and 10 boards, says that the vets are ready to go for 2011-12.
“This means a lot, to beat EHS,” said Barrientos, whose passing and set direction from the high post complemented the smooth backcourt play of underrated Christian Zuniga (13 points on some relentless drives) and lefty J.J Velasquez (nine points, a solid floor game). “We have worked hard to get to this point, we have worked on controlling the ball, and I think the attitude on the team is good now. We want to go all the way once the fall season starts.”
Econ definitely showed the makings of a championship ball club in dispatching a Bobcat team it had already beaten, and rather badly, in the Pharr spring league. Along with the aforementioned senior leaders, this loaded club also has a pair of super juniors. Andy Duarte is a pesky workman inside to help Barrientos and rugged Ricky Cantu (11 rebounds Monday), and his classmate Juan Rosillo was one of the stars of game.
A thin leaper with amazing range and zero hesitation in letting it fly, Rosillo sank five treys in the game, four in the first half; his fourth broke a 25-all tie and gave the Orange a 3-pont halftime lead.
What was so sweet about the buzzer beater was that it came after nice execution in the waning moments. The Jags worked the clock down from 27 seconds with crisp passing, and maneuvered the ball into the corner, where the springy Rosillo knocked down the triple in the clutch.
That kind of heady team play in the key stages is reminiscent of the way EHS teams of the past have maximized their opportunities, and Velasquez, who keyed the culminating stages of the night with four free throws, said that this may be Econ’s time to shine.
“We have the trust back, and the confidence,” said the steady guard, mentioning that last year’s disappointing failure to return to the postseason after a breakthrough campaign in 2009-10 is all behind the guys now. “We have chemistry, better than they (EHS) have right now, so we don’t panic when we get into tough situations, we just know what to do because we have experience.”
As for EHS, the reloading process is going to be interesting, as the new-look Bobcats are auditioning a ton of unknowns who want to try and keep the 6-year league title streak alive. The one constant is going to be 6-foot-3 Noe Espericueta, who has been an animal in the offseason leagues. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds against Econ, threw in several emphatic blocks, and even canned a pair of threes. The dude was everywhere.
His bomb at 2:33 of the fourth got the ‘Cats to within four at 55-51, after Econ had gotten sloppy for the first time all night and allowed its rival to gradually trim the double-digit lead down. Aggressive guard Raul Palma was an active player during the comeback and Espericueta, who will accept the lion’s share of the looks this season with the Fab Four having graduated, was also running the court and trying to hustle the ‘Cats back into it.
Some missed free throws and turnovers from the green guard set doomed the comeback, though, with Econ’s defense forcing the miscues and patiently milking the clock before attacking the somewhat erratic EHS D for clean and easy looks at the goal. After the buzzer beater to end the first half, the Jags never trailed.
Barrientos, whose calm and clever package is at an all-time best right now, made perhaps the play of the game when he saw an opening out front, put the ball on the floor, and steamed past two ‘Cats for a 2-point drive that made it 55-48 before Big Noe’s three. If he doesn’t make that play, the ‘Cats are two down after the bomb.
To start the fourth Rosillo, who will definitely give the Jags an extra boost this season, had connected from downtown for a 6-point lead, and this shot was a momentum builder for the Jags, who seemed to get something like that from someone every time they needed it. EHS, meanwhile, did not make the plays when the situation arose.
NOTES: Econ played without senior Jesus Gonzalez, who is said to be spending considerable time working out in preparation for football season. The Bobcats were minus valuable returner Nick Micallef, who has injured a knee but may be back in the fray as early as 10 days from now.
The Jags had earlier beaten McAllen along with posting two forfeit wins, while Edinburg, piloted by former Bobcat mentor Jake Berry, came in with victories over Idea Academy and Sharyland.