Big games ahead for Big 7 basketball teams
It’s been 22 years since a La Joya High School boys basketball team last won a playoff game. Coyotes head coach Eric Montalvo was a member of that team and is hoping to be a part of the next team to do so when they host Harlingen South tomorrow at La Joya High School at 3 pm.
The 2020-2021 Coyotes have already ended one long drought in the history of the boys basketball team; this year’s squad claimed the outright District 31 -6A title last week, the first team to do so since 2005.
Montalvo welcomed back an experienced squad from last season; one that put itself into the postseason picture with some big late season wins and a buzzer beating victory over McAllen Memorial in a play-in game for the final playoff spot. According to Montalvo, that experience helped shape this years’ team.
“I think just confidence wise; this year coming in you know, the confidence was a little different than when we started the season compared to last year. The year before that (2018-2019) we had done OK but we still weren’t sure of ourselves,” said the sixth year coach. “This year the kids came in knowing their roles better and taking bigger roles as well and the confidence they had from last year I think was one of the big things that we had.”
That confidence and experience showed itself throughout the season. The Coyotes five starters, four of whom are seniors, all logged time for the Coyotes last year and wasted little time showing they were to be reckoned with this year in a newly configured district.
The Coyotes started the year with eight consecutive wins but then lost two straight. The second loss, a buzzer beater to PSJA North to open the district campaign was followed by 12 straight victories to put the team in control of the district race. A late season loss to Edinburg Economedes was the only other blemish on a 13 – 2 district record. The Coyotes come into tonight 21 – 3 overall. The three losses all came at the hands of other playoff qualifying teams as well. (A final district match-up with Edinburg Vela was still being considered when this article was written.)
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s game is the team’s district title will always be something to be remembered.
“I think it (the district title) was just confirmation for all the work they (his players) have put in for the last three or four years. That joy and excitement that they had was just something that you saw in their eyes and their faces; knowing that, you know what, we preached working hard and being consistent daily and it will pay off. I think that is what we can get from this and this group of kids; they committed to something they wanted to accomplish and they put the time and effort to it and they got it done.”
The Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks and Mission Veterans Patriots, playoff qualifiers and District 31-5A rivals from a year ago, are back in the postseason this year as well.
The Diamondbacks enter the playoffs as the #3 seed from District 31-5A and will face Donna tonight at Donna High School at 7 pm. The team lost a good portion of their 2019-2020 squad to graduation (only three players returned for this year) but overcame that lack of experience to stay in the hunt for what would have been their third straight district title until the final game of the regular season. After a 1 – 2 start to district the team ran off 10 straight wins before a defeat at the buzzer to McAllen Rowe. The team finished with a district mark of 11 – 3 and is currently 14 – 5 overall. All three district losses were to the co-champs of the league (McAllen High, McAllen Rowe).
Diamondbacks head coach Rene Gonzalez talked about how his team worked through the season with so many new faces on the team. “To be honest, it’s just a matter of hard work and practice,” said Gonzalez. The seventh year coach also credited his returning players for teaching the teams younger players how to win and close out games. Being discounted by others (for their lack of varsity experience) was also a motivating factor for the group.
The Patriots dug themselves an even bigger hole to start off play in District 30-5A play, losing their first three games (two to eventual district champion Laredo Martin and once to Rio Grande City, the district runner-up) before running off six straight wins to help them earn their third straight playoff appearance. The team finished the regular season as the districts #3 seed with a 6 – 4 district record. The team is 16 – 9 overall. The team’s first round opponent was still to be determined as of press time as well as the date, time and location of the game.
Patriots head coach Jose Ramos credited a tough non-district schedule for getting his team prepared for the district season along with getting time together with his players after a long lay-off in the middle of the district schedule as the reason for turning their season around.
“When we came back we were able to get everybody back 100 percent and that’s when we started rolling again,” said Ramos. “Hopefully we can keep it rolling for our bi-district game.”
The Lady Diamondbacks from Sharyland Pioneer High School are still playing as well, courtesy of their first round victory over Brownsville Pace last week. The team won their third straight District 31-5A title under head coach Nicole Villarreal this year with an unselfish group of players that has proven to be tough defensively. The team is currently 19 – 2 on the year.
Villarreal credited her team’s four seniors (three of whom are four year lettermen) for their contributions to the team. “They were a tribute to where things turned the corner for our program.”
The Lady Diamondbacks are scheduled to play Victoria West this afternoon at Miller High School in Corpus Christi at 2 pm in an Area round contest.