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20110121-JLHS-v-VMHSVeterans Memorial took a big step Friday night.

Playing on the road in the loud brand new stadium of Juarez-Lincoln, the Patriots responded to a slow first quarter to go on to defeat the Huskies in convincing fashion, 43-31. The win furthers the team’s quest for a playoff spot and pushes Juarez-Lincoln’s (4-7 in district) farther away.

The Huskies held the first quarter lead behind the strong play of the multi-dimensional Jaime Garza. Number 23 would finish the game as Juarez’s leading scorer with 13.

The play wouldn’t be enough in the end and entirely absent in the second quarter as Veterans (17-10, 7-4) upped their game to another level. The red, white and blue outscored their opponent 13-3 behind the strong defensive play of Kent Warren and the offensive shooting of Albert Zapata.

“I just thought our guys buckled down [after the first quarter] and started playing our brand of basketball,” said Patriot head coach Romeo de la Garza.

Speaking of Warren, de la Garza says, “[Kent] knows we expect big things from him. Defensively he did a great job changing shots. That is what we expect of him. “

Zapata on the other end of the floor provided his team with the spark they needed to turn the defensive plays into offensive production. Clinging to an 11-10 lead with less than three minutes until the half, Zapata would hit a three from the left corner. Seconds later the guard would get a steal and take it the other way, scoring despite having the shot contested.

The guard would also have the top highlight of the game in the final seconds. With ten seconds left and after the two teams found themselves scrambling for a wild loose ball, the Patriots would eventually gain control and find a wide open Zapata in the exact spot he hit the earlier three. As the buzzer sounded, the climatic second three gave Veterans Memorial a commanding 19-11 halftime lead.

The third quarter would be much of the same as the Huskies were outscored 10-5. Warren’s defensive presence as well as playing strong offensively (game high 22 points) in the paint was frustrating to Juarez, who either didn’t come into challenge the big man or found themselves getting beat if they did.

In the fourth, the Huskies’ defensive stand intensified, frustrating Veterans. However, Juarez wasn’t able to be productive enough on offense to seriously threaten. Further, when lighting quick Joshua Villarreal hit back-to-back baskets with a floater and layup to push the lead to 38-24, the end was secured.

The win is big for Veterans, allowing the squad to keep pace with Hidalgo and RGC for the third and fourth spots in the playoff race. De la Garza feels his team is playing well at the right time.

“The thing we have been stressing to our guys is there is so much parity in our district and we have to be ready to play every night. We did a good job tonight. Ithought we did a good job executing and finishing plays. That is something we hadn’t been doing and we are starting to do it now.  Hopefully that means we are starting to peak at the right time.”

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