In their second district game of the 23-24 season, the Mission Eagles girls basketball team defeated the Edinburg North lady Cougars 47-34 Tuesday night in Mission. The victory against the Lady Cougars comes just a few days after the Lady Eagles dropped their first district game to the Edinburg Lady Bobcats, last year’s District 31-6A champions. The win gives the Lady Eagles their first district win of the season, bringing their overall record to 6-10.
“At this point, every district game counts. I told the girls, “You gotta play hard every time. It doesn’t matter who you play. You gotta play every hard, every second, every game, to get a win in this district,” Lady Eagles’ head girls basketball Coach Erica Molina said.
Last season, the Lady Eagles tied Edinburg North for third place in the District 31-6A, but lost a seeding game that sunk them to fourth. Their reward: A Bi-District road trip to Harlingen. Their opponent: The Harlingen Lady Cardinals, undefeated 32-6A District champions. The resulting loss ended the Lady Eagles’ season on a sour note but set them on a course to right the wrongs that created those disappointments. Tuesday night’s game was just the latest step of that journey.
Senior guard Justice Cardenas scored 11 of her team-high 16 points in the first quarter. Cardenas’ court awareness and veteran savvy were on full display as she floated in and out of the court’s open spaces, splashing threes over the unsuspecting Lady Cougars. Senior center Kaitlyn Richardson’s dominant inside presence and junior guard Bella Rivera’s Rodmanesque defensive intensity pushed the Lady Eagles’ first quarter lead from three points to nine at the half. Despite Elsel Ramirez’s herculean efforts to carry the Lady Cougars, they could not break the Lady Eagles.
“I think we really stepped up individually. We all played our roles in the way they were supposed to be played in this game. Everybody had each other’s back. It was a really good game, character-wise,” Richardson said.
The Lady Eagles extended their lead in the third quarter by creating turnovers and attacking the rim in transition. Juniors Pamela Zapata and Kayla Alaniz sprinted down the court, making plays for trailing bigs and shooters. But mistakes and tight officiating stole momentum away from the Lady Eagles. Their lead seesawed back and forth and cast doubt on the Lady Eagles’ closing efforts. A double-digit lead slowly turned into a single-point lead. Turnovers, fouls, and missed defensive assignments allowed the Lady Cougars to lurk within striking distance; stalking for the right moment to begin their improbable lead-changing run.
“It was a little frustrating letting them come back into the game because at the end of the day, it’s the fourth quarter, and I expect them to play hard to the very last minute. So it’s tough when they’re giving up little fouls like that,” Molina said.
North guards Yaneth Salinas and Roxanna Rodriguez forced the Lady Eagles into foul trouble and nearly brought the Lady Cougars back from the free-throw line. But the Lady Eagles countered with the same focused intensity that put them ahead.
“I’m really impressed with how we kept control, and we didn’t let emotions get to us with the refs, us, our girls, even the little mistakes and fouls. We kept it together and kept our heads in the game,” Cardenas said.
The Lady Eagles will to win was more significant than the nexus of circumstances working against them Tuesday night.
“I never doubted us, not for one second,” Richardson said.
Alaniz and Cardenas closed the fourth quarter with late daggers that slammed the door on the Lady Cougars. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lady Eagles embraced, shook their opponent’s hands, and raced to the locker room to celebrate beating the team that altered their playoff destiny just one year prior.
“We made playoffs last year, so the expectation is a little greater this year. We tied for third with Edinburg North last year but lost the seeding game to them. So, it’s something where we don’t want to put ourselves in that position again. We want to win every game from here on out,” Molina said.
The Lady Eagles, now sitting at 1-1 in District 31-6A, will face the Edinburg Economedes Lady Jaguars (7-13, 0-2) tonight in Edinburg. Afterwards, they face a tough three-game stretch versus the top three teams in their district: The PSJA Lady Bears, La Joya Lady Coyotes, and Edinburg Lady Bobcats. After a brutal 13-game non-conference schedule, the Lady Eagles are fighting toward the finish line with purpose, through trial and error while hoping and striving, as Richardson said, “To do even better than we did today.”