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The Final Curtain

Diamondbacks’ improbable playoff run ends

Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks’ Edward Chavez battles the defense during last Tuesday’s Region IV-5A quarterfinal against Edinburg Vela. Progress Times photo by Joe Vela.

The Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks’ Cinderella story ended Tuesday night at Mission High School after losing to the Edinburg Vela Sabercats 63-41 in the Regional Quarterfinals of the UIL State Basketball Playoffs. More than a thousand guests packed into Neuhaus Gymnasium to witness the 3rd round matchup between two of the last Valley teams remaining in the playoffs. This third and final matchup between the undefeated 31-5A District Champion Sabercats and fourth-place Diamondbacks wasn’t just a showcase for two of the best basketball programs in the Valley, but a moment of vindication for the Diamondbacks.

Tuesday night’s game between the Diamondbacks and Sabercats nearly didn’t happen. On the eve of the playoffs, The Diamondbacks suffered a devastating 45-28 home loss to the McAllen Nikki Rowe Warriors. The loss created a tie between the two squads and forced an elimination game that was to be played later that week.

“We were the fourth seed. We didn’t even know if we were going to make the playoffs,” senior Edward Chavez said

But a bombshell revelation surrounding Nikki Rowe’s use of an ineligible player forced the Warriors to forfeit seven of their district games, which awarded the Diamondbacks the fourth seed.

The Diamondbacks won a low-scoring, 42-40 defensive thriller in their Bi-district matchup vs. the top-seeded Weslaco East Panthers a week ago Tuesday. In their Area round matchup last Friday vs the Gregory-Portland Wildcats, they escaped Kingsville with a 60-55 victory over one of the best basketball teams in Corpus. That setup Tuesday night’s battle with the opportunity to advance into the Regional Semifinal round on the line.

The Diamondbacks had the Sabercats in a straitjacket to start the night. They held the Sabercats to just twelve first-quarter points. Solid defensive efforts from Julian Valdez, Dustin Duty, and Muhamed Shaat kept the Diamondbacks within arms-reach of the Sabercats for most of the first half.

“We’re big believers in “defense wins championships” I thought we played pretty decent defense that first half, Diamondbacks’ head Coach Fernando Rodriguez said.

With just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Sabercats led the Diamondbacks 19-12. At that moment, the Sabercats flipped a switch and pushed the game’s pace to a level the Diamondbacks couldn’t match. Missed shots, late defensive rotations, and a cascade of turnovers allowed the Sabercats to finish the half on a 12-2 run.

“We were turning the ball over, and that led to easy transition points. We missed layups and took a couple of rushed shots… hats off to Vela. They kept attacking.” Rodriguez said.

Edward Chavez, Joshua Gaither, and Matthew Maldonado tried their best to keep the Diamondbacks in the game. But the 14-point first-half deficit was too much to overcome. Although the lead ballooned to nearly 20 points several times in the third quarter, the Diamondbacks kept inching closer after several timely baskets from the aforementioned trio.

Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks’ Joshua Gaither scores with a layup during last Tuesday’s Region IV-5A quarterfinal against Edinburg Vela. Progress Times photo by Joe Vela.

J.P. Olivarez, Jordan Bustamante, and Axel Garza carried the Sabercats to victory by combining to score 56 of their team’s 63 points. Four back-breaking threes from Olivarez demoralized the Diamondback’s third-quarter comeback attempt.

As the fourth quarter wound down, every Sabercats’ bucket was a hammer blow. The insurmountable lead and unstoppable Sabercats’ momentum silenced the Diamondback faithful and sealed their playoff fate.

Although the Diamondbacks fell short Tuesday night, the Sharyland community will never forget their improbable journey. Fans, teachers, fellow coaches, administrators, family members, and friends draped in red crowded the devastated Diamondbacks to share hugs, words of encouragement, and congratulations. The Diamondbacks rose from the slums of uncertainty to battle three of the best 5A basketball teams in South Texas and finished 2-1.

“We came out working hard through the first two rounds. We wanted it, but we just came up short of what the real goal was,” senior Julian Valdez said after the game.

The Sabercats victory guarantees them a spot in this weekend’s Sweet 16. The Diamondbacks finished the 23-24 season with a 22-15 overall record as Bi-district and Area champions. Their appearance in the third round is their best finish since their banner 2020 playoff run to the Sweet 16.

“It was a good run. I’m happy to be here,” Chavez said.

“These guys definitely set the bar for us. These seniors set a good example and worked hard all year. They set the bar high…the third round. And I have expectations to be back here soon,” Rodriguez said after the loss.

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