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“It’s not over yet.”
Those were the words of Sharyland basketball star and team co-captain Quino Pistokache following his team’s regular season finale over McHi on Tuesday night.
Yes, more is to come—including a date with Laredo Nixon next week—but there has been plenty to celebrate already.
And celebrate they did as the victory over the Bulldogs gave the Rattlers their thirteenth straight victory, punctuating their District 30-5A Championship on a night when second-place Nikki Rowe was upset by La Joya, giving the Warriors their fourth district loss.
“To get a win to close it out, to be able to cut the net down and hear the song playing and watch these guys enjoy it, is something I will never forget,” said head coach David Keith following Tuesday’s victory.
Of course reaching this point wasn’t easy for Sharyland as the 2011-12 season was a roller-coaster ride that began with the team ranked as the top team for the entire Valley and then subsequently lost to Harlingen South in the season opener. Following the upset, David Keith’s squad slushed through a non-district schedule, where they went 12-10. Though many of those losses were to quality teams at prestige tournaments such as the McDonalds Texas Invitational, there were also losses to 4A’s Hidalgo and twice to a rebuilding Edinburg.
What were the difficulties surrounding a squad that was so hyped? Perhaps first there was the hype. Despite only having two seniors and losing arguably their best player from a year ago, Fred Ramos to graduation, heralded freshman Jesse Pistokache came in and was expected to make an immediate impact. While the young star had no problem competing at the high school level—dropping 35 points on Laredo Martin and averaging around 15 a game—the team couldn’t gel the way a championship-level team should. Then there was the unfortunate case of John Madrigal’s father passing away just as the post player was ready to begin his senior year.
Ironically, the personal tragedies and the initial inability to be united on the court may have actually pushed Sharyland to a higher level of play that perhaps the local media, the fans or even the team itself did not see itself achieving.
The well-earned achievement was not so much the ability to win games but the breeding of confidence to obtain the victory, to shut down an opponent, to ignore distractions, to reach a higher level of play.
“They definitely have [confidence],” says Keith of his team. “That was hard to come by [and] was hard earned. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind that confidence.”
After losing their district opener to Nikki Rowe, the district’s defending champs, in a heated and down-to-the-wire game, the Rattlers suddenly clicked. First, the district’s struggling teams were put out of commission early, such as the 91-21 victory over the Donna Redskins. Then there were the season sweeps of Memorial and Palmview.
But perhaps no game was more important or more representative of the hard-earned confidence, even the sheer guts and resiliency of the Sharyland Rattlers, then their double-overtime victory over the Rowe Warriors in the classic rematch on Jan. 24.
Leading for much of the game, the Rattler were in control and appeared to be ready to enact revenge. However, the Warriors stormed back to tie the game on the final play of regulation. Despite not having Jesse Pistokache or John Madrigal for the two overtimes due to fouling out, Sharyland outhustled and outclutched the defending champs, winning on a Quino Pistokache free throw in the final seconds.
Keith says, overall, that the team “came together and realized the tighter they got [as a group], the easier things got. I think it carried over into life for them.”
For Madrigal, that unity was crucial to fill the void in his life.
“The team really helped me out,” said the senior and team co-captain. “We bonded together when I lost my dad. They were always there for me. Basketball was a way for me to relieve my stress during those situations. It’s been good for me.”
However, as his fellow co-captain stated above, the Rattlers are not done yet. While a district championship was more than welcome, a victory at bi-district and beyond is even more desired.
“I thought [winning district] would feel a lot better than it did but we feel as a team that this isn’t it. We can still keep on going. Of course I am proud of the district championship [but] we are still hungry and are looking forward [the next challenge].
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.