WESLACO – He’ll tell you that he’s 5-foot-11 but it is clear that he is probably closer to 6-1, but this is just part of the way he is. Bobby Espericueta, a guy who has improved every year he’s been in the SaberCat program, is a hard worker with a ton of skills but one will never see him bragging on the court or showing off.
He just gets down the business in trying to help Vela live up to its lofty pedigree every time out, and with an excellent shot, great quickness and leaping ability, plus a desire to go 110 percent every play, Espericueta has carved out a niche for himself as a senior leader who is vital to the success of his teammates.
Here Friday, Espericueta was the dominant force in Vela’s fourth straight district win, 52-36 over East, with 16 points, six rebounds and as many assists. He showed his unselfish nature by dishing for three feeds in a two-minute span during the second quarter as the Sabes pulled away into what would be a 13-point halftime lead. At other times as the game unfolded, Espericueta, averaging 17 ppg this season to rank in the Valley top 10, could be seen rising for strong rebounds, running the court to score, passing with ease and precision, and jumping out to lead the unit’s vaunted halfcourt trap.
There is really nothing that he cannot do well and these days, with added muscle and spring, the vital cog in the machine is playing his best basketball ever, putting together a recent string of 20-point games highlighted by a career-high 29 points in the club’s stirring win against Weslaco to start district play Jan. 3.
“I worked hard in the offseason, in the weight room, and with training,” said the sleek yet muscular lead guard. “I wanted to improve my explosiveness, with something called Verti-Max, and I think it has helped.”
East can certainly testify to that, as Espericueta skied past them to score at the rim, bundled in tough boards while taking shots to the chops on more than one occasion, and generally leading the way for another Sabe triumph. Though Vela endured a losing mark through non-district, Coach Lucio Rodriguez and his gang never lost faith in the effort.
“We lost a lot of tough games, most were close,” noted Espericueta, who teams nicely with smooth senior Kaleb Coronado (13 ppg) to form a potent 1-2 punch. “We do have a nice senior group in the starting lineup and lately we have started to jell together.”
As for his underrated passing ability, especially in traffic, he credits experience and instinct as the factors. Against East he rose on a number of drives, only to find an open teammate just as it appeared that he was going to shoot the ball.
“You have to know where everyone is, that is what makes a good passer,” Espericueta explained. “The more you play, the more you can learn to see the court like that. I have been doing that since I was a little kid, getting into the air; sometimes it helps me see where everyone is.”
At one point in time, folks were starting to write these guys out of the race but now the Sabes are in first place after victories against Donna North and EHS along with the results over the Weslaco schools. Next up is a date at local rival North Tuesday, after the Coogs dropped to 2-2 Friday with a narrow OT loss to Weslaco Friday.
In the East victory, Vela’s Alex Cantu was hot early with a couple of hoops, Troy Hernandez pitched in with eight second-half points, and the rest of the crew did its thing, firing out on the traps, forcing turnovers, and keeping the ball moving on the offensive end. To start the night, the Sabes ran off 45 seconds with eight crisp looks until Cantu scored inside. Consistently, they were in sync and moving, never letting the Wildcats get any sort of momentum established.
“Every night someone else is stepping up to help, it’s been really good lately,” said Rodriguez, noting that in the EHS win Jan. 14, defensive stopper Matt Arteaga was clutch with three big bombs late in the night. Arteaga is also one of the big wigs in the team’s trapping press, an aspect that Espericueta says has been coming for some time.
“Coach has kept that in his pocket most of non-district,” he said. “But now we are rolling it out and we have been working on it for the whole year.”
Bobby has been working on his game all year too, it is obvious. For years, really. He once was a role player known for tenacious D and the occasional trey, but as 2019-20 wears on, he has morphed into one of the Valley’s most complete players, no doubt about it. Kid can do it all.