Step One was a go-ahead, where each of them carried the standard high for bi-district, as part of a 4-0 sweep by District 31-5A over its southern neighbors from 32-5A. It got tougher after that, but EHS and North both stayed alive with area round wins Saturday night in the state basketball playoffs, as the city sends two teams on to the third round in the same year for the first time ever.
The Laredo league sent two studs, United and San Antonio Southwest (27-9) , into battle with the city girls, with the former giving North (26-11) all it could handle before the Lady Coogs scored a 45-40 win at Rio Grande City. EHS took out SW 45-44 behind 18 points from Laura Torres at Laredo.
EHS (27-9) now advances to a showdown with league rival Harlingen South while the Lady Coogs will get Harlingen, a team they’ve beaten twice this season. All four 31-5A teams are still cracking in the third round of the postseason, another first for the Valley. A doubleheader was set for Tuesday night at The University of Texas-Pan American Field House, starting at 6 p.m. with South-EHS.
The three-deep march by the Lady ‘Cats marks the third season in a row that Rachel Carmona’s bunch has accomplished the feat. The program has won narrow and low-scoring bi-district games the past three seasons over San Benito and Weslaco (twice), having lost in area Laredo Alexander ((2007-08) and McAllen High (2008-09) before making breakthrough to the regional quarters this time.
The last time EHS got to the third round was 2005-06, when Marah Guzman and The Big Three of her, Liz Olvera and Gina Ferrer advanced past Laredo Nixon en route to San Antonio, where they nearly knocked off San Antonio Warren at the Sweet 16, dropping a tense 50-47 decision.
Edinburg has come up short against South twice this season, losing 67-53 and 56-56. South is 31-3 and is now an amazing 97-10 the past three campaigns.
Meanwhile, North popped the Lady Cards 54-42 and 53-36 earlier in the slate, but faces a 19-11 group that is peaking at the right time. This is the program’s farthest march since the late 1990s.
It was a fine performance for the rivals Saturday, many of whom had gotten a rare chance to see their crosstown counterparts do their thing in bi-district earlier in the week. North girls were in the stands as the Lady ‘Cats nipped Weslaco 45-42 Monday, including Brandy Garcia.
When the Lady Coogs pounded the living daylights out of Lopez by 35 Tuesday, some EHS kids were on hand, namely wounded warriors Anaka Garcia and Victoria Ponce.
For the EHS group, playing without two experienced hands did not catch up to it in area. And to begin the postseason in the first round, Torres and Co. had gotten some valuable contributions from former role players thrust into the limelight, spelling doom for the Pantherettes.
Torres had a late hoop and then a steal, while Emma Lopez made two clutch free throws with 33 seconds left to help the Lady Bobcats advance. Edinburg led early by eight, trailed by three at the half and then churned ahead of Weslaco to take the bi-district win. Sharmee Tigner and freshman Michellin Mercelita were outstanding for the team in the victory, with junior point guard Bianca Casas knocking down some big shots and Stephanie Nunez having perhaps her best all-around effort of the year when an injury-depleted unit needed it most.
A night later, North came out and simply destroyed Lopez, winning against the Lady Lobos for the third time in three tries this season. Dani Vargas was the star of the game with 19 points while senior Essence Brown was nearly as dominant, with 12 points and a great floor game out front.
The Lady Coogs led 17-10 after one but put an amazing 24-1 run together in the second period, with the defense refusing to allow the smaller (and surprisingly) slower Lopez girls to get the ball up court.
Even though Pena and Salinas were non-factors, North breezed to the win, leading at one stage by the ridiculous score of 49-11.
“When we spread the court and pass to the cutters, we are hard to beat,” said Garcia, who grabbed 15 rebounds, had five blocks and played terrific basketball all night. She got a chance to help cut down the nets in her home gym, as the program won its first playoff game after two straight one-and-done tries in the postseason.
With three playoff appearances in a row under Coach Jenny Gaytan, this team is fast on the way to re-establishing the dominance enjoyed in the late 1990s, when it won 78 games over a three-year stretch and earned a trip to the regional tournament in San Antonio.
NOTES: The boys finished up last week with EHS getting an undefeated 14-0 in through 31-5A. The Bobcats were to face San Benito in the playoffs on the road Tuesday while Econ (7-7) squared off at La Feria against 32-5A champ Brownsville Hanna Monday. North clocked in at 4-10 after losing its last five in a row, including an overtime defeat against P-SJ-A to close the season Tuesday.
Turn to the Review Web site this week for more on the league champ Bobcats.