Moving On

Four Big 7 boys’ basketball teams still playing

The regular season for boys’ basketball concluded earlier this week with four Big 7 schools having either qualified outright for a playoff spot or in need of a tie breaker game victory to get there. Here is a look at each team still in the running.

Sharyland Pioneer

The Diamondbacks are back, winning their second straight district title and securing their fourth playoff appearance in the school’s sixth year; all under coach Rene Gonzalez. After a 13-1 record in district play in 2019, the Diamondbacks went one better in 2020, sweeping through District 31-5A play at 14-0. Pioneer is currently 25-7 overall. 

The fact that the Diamondbacks accomplished so much so far this season should not come as a surprise. Most of the 2019 squad returned for 2020 and got stronger with the arrival of Derek Luna. 

Gonzalez described the formula needed to get the Diamondbacks back to the postseason. “Attitude,” he said. “That’s the main thing we talked about in practice.” Gonzalez went on to talk about the importance of getting his team to work hard throughout the season. “It starts in practice, doing what we have to do.”

Gonzalez also talked about the early part of the season and how it was important to get the returning members of the football team back into shape before district play began. Three of the team’s usual starters were part of the Pioneer football team. 

Senior Luke Padilla credited his coaches for getting the team to where it is and also echoed Gonzalez’s comments when it came to describing what the players had to do to stay on top. “I think the only reason we got here was because of our coaches and the hard work and dedication we put in all four years of high school.” Padilla went on to talk about getting past the second round of the playoffs, something he and his teammates have not accomplished on the court. “It’s a goal we’ve had the whole time we’ve been here.”

The quest to get there begins on Monday, February 24 with a first round game against Mercedes at Pioneer High School. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 pm.

Mission Veterans

Coach Jose Ramos is now two for two in reaching the postseason since coming to Veterans, having qualified last year and this. The Patriots enter the playoffs as the #3 seed from District 31-5A with a record of 9-5. The team is currently 17-14 overall.

The team started the year having to find a way to replace Noe Cantu, a big part of the 2019 squad. For Ramos the solution started with defense.

“Defense has been the key for us,” said Ramos. “This year we wanted to really focus our team on defense and try to get most of our offense out of our defense.”

The Patriots hovered around the .500 mark through non-district and were 1-1 in district when they took off, winning five straight to finish the first half of the district schedule 6-1. Two games in particular during the streak stood out to Ramos, making him feel that his team was on the right path. The Patriots put up 95 points against Roma on January 17 and 90 against Rio Grande City four days later. 

“We had a really good first round,” said Ramos. “We were flowing really well; so that’s when we knew we had a good chance of getting back in the playoffs.”

Next up for the Patriots is a game Tuesday, February 25 against Brownsville Pace at Pace High School. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 pm.

One Patriots player who has seen the postseason numerous times is junior AJ Gonzaque. “My experience in the playoffs rubs off on the guys,” he said. His advice is pretty simple. “I tell them “Don’t be nervous”; a playoff game is (like) every other game . . . it has the title “playoff” but it’s just a regular game to us.”

Ramos went back to talking about defense when asked about next week. “(Playing) with a defensive mentality, we can give ourselves a good chance to compete.”

La Joya Palmview

 The 2020 Lobos accomplished something that the team has not done in a number of years, securing a playoff spot as the #4 seed from District 31-5A. The Lobos finished district play with an 8-6 record and are 21-14 overall.

Expectations for a good year were high at the beginning of the season as a large portion of the 2019 squad returned, most of them seniors. Coach Albert Carrillo credited those seniors with stepping up and winning the games they needed to in order to secure their postseason spot.

Despite their experience, the team, according to Carrillo, still needed to develop a confidence that it could compete. “A lot of it was them, the attitude they brought to practice and stuff like that,” said Carrillo. “Once we got rolling, they got better, we started winning. It was a mindset they had to change; they were used to losing their previous three years. Once they started winning they felt like “We can do it”, so that urgency was there.”

That urgency became real after the team opened district play 0-2. The team righted the ship afterwards, winning five of their next six. “We’re going into Roma and I told them it was a must win game,” said Carrillo. “Once we got that win; the next games, they came easy. When we beat (Mission) Vets at their place it sort of changed our season around.”

“It feels amazing,” said senior guard Gerson Ramos about getting to the postseason. He doesn’t want his season and high school career to end anytime soon either. “We’re looking forward to at least two rounds deep. We want to make it far this year.”

The journey for Ramos and his teammates begins Tuesday February 25 when the Lobos travel to Brownsville to take on Veterans Memorial High School. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 pm.  

Speaking before the playoff match-ups were set, Carrillo felt good about his team’s chances no matter who they played. “If we face Brownsville Vets or Brownsville Pace, they’re tough, but at the end of the day it’s anybody’s game.”

La Joya High

The Coyotes finished tied for fourth in District 30-6A with McAllen Memorial at 7-7. Overall the Coyotes are 20-15. Because the two teams split their two games in district play, they will play again tonight to determine who will earn the #4 seed in the first round of the playoffs next week. The game is scheduled to be played at Mission High School starting at 7:30 pm. The winner will play Laredo United sometime next week. 

Coyotes coach Eric Montalvo credited his team’s success this season to the fact that different players kept stepping up every game, making it difficult for opponents to key on which player to stop. A case in point was their December 17 match-up against Sharyland High when the Coyotes bench players outscored their starters 37-18 to get the win. 

The Coyotes had to overcome a tough early season stretch of district games. After opening with a win over PSJA High they dropped two road games in a row and found themselves trailing at the half at Juarez-Lincoln before pulling out the win. Two more losses had the team at 2-4 in district play before they won four of their next five to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. A win over Mission High this past Tuesday night combined with McAllen Memorial’s loss to McAllen Rowe created the tie between the two. 

Montalvo said that he liked the way his team matched up with Memorial going into tonight’s game and felt the key to the game would be how well his team could rebound the ball.

This story was originally published in the Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 edition of the Progress Times.

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