PHARR - It all happened so fast, and so well Friday, a combo platter of skill and luck. They looked out of it, down three with a minute to go, but after forcing two turnovers inside the final 20 seconds, the Lady Cougars clinched a playoff spot on a last-second layup from junior Dani Vargas.
The 47-46 win at Pharr North made Edinburg North 7-4 in District 31-5A, as it overcame a subpar first three quarters to nip the Lady Raiders, who came in two games behind North for fourth place and exited three back, out of it, and gasping for air in disbelief.
For 24 minutes, Pharr North outhustled the Lady Coogs, passed better, and drove the lane with impunity. The Lady Raiders led by 11 in the second half until senior Brittany Coronado took over inside, scoring nine of her career-high 16 points in the fourth, as North stormed from behind.
Then it was Vargas, who had a hand in forcing the second North turnover in the waning moments. With four seconds left, she drove the lane from the left side and converted the game-winner, on a night when the sluggish Lady Cougars (19-13 overall) probably should have lost.
“I was freaking out at the end,” admitted Vargas, who came in averaging 10.1 in district. “I was thinking, omigod, what if I miss!? But up high, I saw the opening and just got my composure back and went in there.”
Vargas’ heroics came after Coronado had stepped in on the left sideline to force the first Lady Raider error, on a super-close call that had the Pharr North home folks roaring with disapproval. The Lady Coogs took over with 12 seconds to go, and the original plan called for Brandy Garcia to take the last shot.
“As it turned out, Brandy said, ‘Take it,’ and so I did,” said Vargas, who’d scored just five points and committed six turnovers before redeeming herself at the end.
North Coach Jenny Gaytan said that though her team started slowly, it kept on fighting, and got the win that meant a postseason berth for the second year in a row.
“P-SJ-A North played well early, they were stronger and more physical than we were,” she said. “We were not playing our game, but Brittany came in to play great, she got after loose balls and scored a lot. And Brandy stepped it up on defense. I’m just glad we won.”
LOOKED BAD EARLY
At the beginning, the Lady Raiders took it to North for an early lead, as quick-footed Jeanette Avitia drove the lane with force and effect. The Lady Coogs threw several passes away and looked mired in cement at both ends of the floor. But Vicky Pena tossed in a bucket and steady Essence Brown took it upon herself to close down the middle.
After one it was 9-9, but again, Pharr North surged behind the aggressive Avitia, who would score 12 points and haul down a game-high 11 boards. With the visitor still struggling to take care of the ball, the Lady Raiders built an 8-point lead on a banked-in three-pointer from Stephanie Nunez to beat the buzzer at the half.
“Everyone was down at halftime,” reported Coronado, who was the most valuable player of the game, collecting 10 rebounds to go with her 16 points. “I told them to stay positive and keep playing.”
Though Coronado, fighting inside for offensive boards and running the court well, had six straight at one point in the third, it was to no avail, as the Lady Raiders ended the period with a 9-point edge, fast guards Debbie Martinez and Kim Alegria finding plenty of holes in the lagging EN defense.
But like lightning, the Lady Coogs came alive, putting 10 straight on the board to start the fourth, taking a 40-39 advantage — their first since Vargas’ J had made it 2-0 — on a stickback from Coronado, who put in seven in a row after her sixer in the third.
Pena, who gutted her way to nine points and nine rebounds despite bleeding intermittently from the mouth, was one of the keys to the victory, as was Garcia, who scored 10 of her 14 after the break. Garcia also made a pair of steals in the fourth that led to hoops, as EN battled back.
The Lady Coogs cut their turnovers in half during the last two quarters, and began to work harder on defense. Still, Pharr North re-assumed the lead at 46-43 with 1:04 to go.
When Avitia missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Lady Coogs failed to score, shooting too soon and from too far out. But Garcia stole one and on possession, Coronado rebounded a Pena miss, was fouled in the act, and nailed two crucial free throws to cut the margin to one with 22 seconds left.
On the inbounds, Coronado cornered Alegria on the baseline and got the call as the Lady Raider player lost it.
“I didn’t foul her,” she smiled later. “Well, I guess it was a maybe.”
Vargas missed a chance for the lead and though Garcia fought for a tie-up on the rebound, possession went to PN. Then, as Martinez raced downcourt after the next inbounds play, Vargas knifed in to knock her off balance, earning a controversial travel call from the refs.
Given the second chance, the junior guard pounded to the goal to win the game with a chippie in the waning seconds; five of the team’s seven league wins have come by four points or less.
NOTES: Edinburg waxed Econ 56-25 Friday to keep pace with Harlingen for second in the league. The Lady Bobcats, with Yadi Salinas now scoring 18.1 points per game in district, are 9-2 as are the Lady Cards. Winning that second place slot is vital for the Lady ‘Cats, as it would mean a bi-district match against the third-place team from 32-5A, a two-team loop with a bunch of average squads battling for third and fourth.
If things hold as they are, the key game looks like EHS-North in the season finale. EHS and Harlingen split this season.
The Bobcat boys remained unbeaten in league play (9-0) by doubling winless Econ, 82-41, behind 20 points from senior Chris Flores, who has stepped up his game recently with seven three-pointers the last two outings. EHS is in the midst of an important stretch in the schedule; if it can get past Pharr North and Harlingen South (two of the teams chasing it for the lead) this week, a fourth straight district crown looks like a definite possibility.