Quartet Changing Culture For Economedes
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956sports.com
EDINBURG – Edinburg Economedes coach Lalo Rios celebrated like any other proud head coach would. With smiles radiating the La Feria gymnasium after the Jaguars had captured the C.E. Vail Classic tournament title earlier this month, Rios vigorously hugged his coaching staff and players as both sides celebrated the program’s first tournament championship in school history.
For Rios, however, the whole dynamic of it all was settling in slower than those around him. For a brief moment, he stood alone in his usual coaching spot on the sideline and uttered, “Wow,” almost treating what was happening around him as if it was unreal.
Rarely does a victory leave a coach speechless, but on that gloomy, cold December afternoon, one that Rios may never forget, it almost did just that. It might be because after three long, arduous years, everything was finally coming together.
Coming together for seniors John Barrientos, Jesus Gonzalez, Ricardo Cantu and J.J. Velasquez, who have started on varsity for Economedes since their freshman year.
“I am so close to these kids because I’ve had them for four years on varsity,” Rios said. “I’m really proud the way they’ve grown up and the maturity they’ve demonstrated since their freshman year to now. It hasn’t always been pretty, but I’m seeing now the fruits of their labor.”
Explains some, doesn’t it?
The experienced foursome has molded the Jaguars into arguably the best boys team in the Valley at 15-2. They’ve already delivered a definite wake up call thanks in large part to its 100-plus point game against Progreso and hard-fought win against highly-touted Harlingen High, who had only one blemish on its record at the time, in the Vail championship game.
As a result of the group’s obvious maturity and intriguing chemistry, it’s brought high expectations and a clear winning attitude to Economedes.
“(The success) feels good,” Gonzalez said. “We just want to keep it going. We just got to stay humble so we can keep on winning, play our game and take it to any team that comes at us.”
Gonzalez’s words are definitely a change in tone from the way things used to be for the quartet. Because of their youth, the Jaguars were never really pegged as a serious contender in the Valley. More often than not, Economedes was seen as an easy win.
To put it lightly, times were tough.
“The teams that would be beat us before, they would make fun of us,” Cantu said. “We would be losing by 60 (points). One time they threw water on top of our court. Now it feels good to get payback.”
As exciting as times are now, each one will tell you the most important thing for them to remember in their final journey is to stay humble. The modest character the group exhibits stems from the first day Rios told them they would be starting on varsity as freshmen because of low numbers and difficulties within the program.
“I was scared going in,” Barrientos said. “I didn’t even know what to do.”
He wasn’t the only one. None of them did. While more experienced teams played for so much more, all they could do was be there for each other during trying times.
“We would be losing a lot, but we always had each other’s backs and pick each other up during the hard times,” Cantu said.
In three seasons, Economedes hasn’t had much to celebrate. The lone bright spot came in 2010 when the Jaguars reached the postseason, but fell to then-No. 1 ranked Brownsville Hanna. Being able to reach the playoffs as sophomores was the turning point for Velasquez, who knew not all would look bleak in the future.
“We’ve learned from the experience,” Velasquez said. “We just have to stay humble and have each other’s backs.”
That team unity alone has taken the Jaguars to new heights it once looked it may never reach. Because based on play so far, Economedes is no longer a doormat to usual contenders.
The Jaguars’ one-point win against the Cardinals proved that and much more, especially to District 31-5A foes. With district play beginning today, all eyes, for once, are sure to be on the Jaguars.
“I hope we make it as far as we can,” Gonzalez said. “Keep our heads up and keep thinking of those bad games we had in the past, especially our freshman year. Keep them in our minds and we can use them when game time comes.”Share this post:
St. Joes’ Cardenas Up To The Challenge
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956sports.com
BROWNSVILLE – Brownsville St. Joseph coach Michael Rudd had a challenge waiting for senior guard Andres Cardenas before the season even tipped off.
“Especially this year, I wanted to find out how serious he was,” Rudd said. “A lot of the time, guys go on vacation. Actually, he was one of my guys who would go on vacation during the season, Christmas Break. Sometimes your team needs to sacrifice to better the team and this year he decided he wasn’t going to go on vacation. He wanted to stay with the team and show how serious and committed he was.”
Challenge accepted. One that has paid off for the Bloodhounds and Cardenas.
St. Joseph has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises thus far, boasting an 18-5 record that has certainly captured the attention of the Valley. Just ask those who have fallen victim.
The Bloodhounds, who compete in a private sector (TAPPS), have beaten several quality opponents this season, including the Hidalgo Pirates, who was the No. 1 team at the time. Others include Class 5A teams McAllen High, PSJA Memorial, Brownsville Pace, Brownsville Lopez, La Joya, and District 32-4A contenders Roma and Mission Veterans Memorial.
Some of the credit can be attributed to Cardenas, who has been instrumental in St. Joseph’s non-district success. Cardenas leads the Bloodhounds in scoring and is one of eight seniors on the team, giving Rudd no shortage of experience.
“I’ve worked so hard these three years on varsity and I’m finally able to motivate my teammates,” Cardenas said. “Obviously, we’re having a very good season so I feel great that I’m a part of this and called the captain of this team. Because it’s not just me, it’s also my teammates who have a huge influence on it.”
And let’s not forget Rudd, who Cardenas feels should be owed some recognition as well.
Rudd, who made the transition from coaching the girls side at St. Joseph, was in his first year as the head coach when Cardenas started on varsity as a sophomore. Although Cardenas says he noticed a little apprehension on Rudd’s part at the beginning, he also points out the third-year head coach “started fast” and made “key moves” that allowed a young team at the time to gel quickly.
“He worked us hard every day,” Cardenas said. “We were able to grow. Now we have some chemistry that is amazing and is almost unbeatable against other teams.”
Sounds like Cardenas is finally starting to understand why Rudd presented a challenge prior to the season.
With it being his final year playing for the Bloodhounds, Cardenas and his family decided to put off an annual mid-season trip to Arizona to visit his sick grandparents for the betterment of his team.
Funny what a little dedication will do. Look at them now.
The Bloodhounds are enjoying one of their best seasons in recent history, already doubling their win total from Cardenas’ first year on varsity, when St. Joseph finished 9-19.
“During the Hidalgo, I realized we were able to beat one of the best teams in the Valley,” Cardenas said. “From then on, we’ve just been rolling.”
And by the looks of it, more’s to come.
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Edinburg vs Weslaco Basketball Mashup
Carlos Robledo takes a look at two of last year’s undefeated district champs as the square off early this season.[wpvideo 0PBckowa]
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Omar To Fight Live On Showtime For Title
Weslaco boxer Omar “Panterita” Figueroa Jr. is packing his bags and heading to California Thursday morning where he will spend the next two weeks training for the biggest fight of his young career.
Omar will fight January 6th against Michael Perez of Newark, New Jersey for the WBO Intercontinental Lightweight Championship. Both of these fighters will come into the bout undefeated. Perez is 15-0-1, 9ko’s while Figueroa is 13-0-1, 10 ko’s. The fight will take place in Indio, California and will be televised live as the co-main event on Showtime.
This will be the toughest opponent to date for Omar and the first time he fights in a live televised event. Tonight Panterita said “ I’m excited about this it is the opportunity that I have been looking for. I have to be ready to go for 10 hard rounds.”
Omar and his father Omar Sr. will spend the holidays in California training in the gym of Joel Diaz a well respected trainer who helped his brothers Antonio and Julio win championship belts. Well known boxers Timothy Bradley and Abner Mares have also trained under Diaz.
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Edinburg Prevail Despite Late Weslaco Rally
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956sports.com
WESLACO – It was a move Edinburg High coach Zeke Cuellar would rather have not made so late during Tuesday’s non-district game against Weslaco High, but it was only the right and safe thing to do.
With the game seemingly in hand, Cuellar emptied his bench with the Bobcats holding a 17-point lead with less than three minutes remaining. But a few quick baskets from the Panthers and the bench’s inability to handle Weslaco’s late-charge press was all Cuellar needed to see to put his starters back in.
The Panthers made it interesting, narrowing the gap significantly, but the Bobcats held on for the 56-51 victory.
“We try to give everybody an opportunity to play,” Cuellar said. “The guys that went on the floor did a decent job, but they started pressing us, which they had done the whole game. That put us in a bind so we had to come back with our starting five down the stretch.”
Even they struggled to stave off Weslaco’s rally.
After Andrew Diaz’s basket gave the Bobcats a 54-37 lead with 2:33 remaining, the Panthers went on a fierce 14-1 run to slice their deficit to four points. That, however, was as close as they got. Noe Espericueta’s free throw with two seconds remaining sealed the win for Edinburg.
“We played as best as we could,” Espericueta said. “I know I did. I played my part. I went out there and wanted to come back for some vengeance from last year when they had a tough ballclub, and they had people rebounding and stuff. That’s what I wanted to see myself do. I wanted to see myself rebounding and getting up there.”
He did more than rebound.
At 6-foot-4, Espericueta’s length, along with the post play from Gabriel Rivas, clearly disrupted the Panthers’ inside game at times, forcing Weslaco to settle into hitting outside shots. That was none more evident than in the third quarter, when the Panthers were held to three field goals and committed five turnovers.
Two of the three field goals did come from the beyond arc, getting the Panthers to within 35-30, but after Cuellar called a timeout, the Bobcats (12-5) finished the quarter on a 10-2 run and held Weslaco to without a field goal until the 2:45 mark in the fourth quarter.
“At halftime, we spoke about contesting those long shots,” Cuellar said of the Panthers’ five first-half 3-pointers. “Their inside game, we had seen them before, they weren’t going to kill us inside. I think we adjusted well in the second half and we did a better job of contesting those long shots. That got us a good cushion and we just rode our big guys down low down the stretch.”
That they did.
Espericueta (14 points) and Rivas (12 points) scored 16 of the team’s final 25 points and were two of three players to score in double digits. Matthew Garza scored a team-high 15 points.
“We came out, started off early,” Garza said. “We had our spurts. It was a rollercoaster. Basically, we just pulled it out in the end. Our second group couldn’t produce correctly.”
Which almost benefited the Panthers, who dropped to 7-10.
“I got a young group,” Weslaco coach Gabe Valdez said. “They’re a group that wants to win and we’re going to do whatever we got to do at all costs to win.”
Nick Villegas led the Panthers with 15 points. Carlos Madrigal added 11.
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Edinburg vs Weslaco Full Game
Edinburg travels to Weslaco for tonight’s broadcast. Leading our broadcast is Joe Bowling. Both EHS and Weslaco claimed district titles last year, but in rebuilding modes this year.
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Palmview vs Edinburg North 2nd Half
Jags Claim Title With Victory of Cards
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956sports.com
LA FERIA – Edinburg Economedes’ John Barrientos had a few kind words to share with the rest of District 31-5A’s teams following the championship game of the C.E. Vail Classic on Saturday afternoon.
“They better get ready,” Barrientos said without hesitation. “If not, get out of our way.”
At least for Saturday, Barrientos had every reason to boast after the Jaguars captured their first-ever tournament championship, defeating Harlingen High 88-87 in a thrilling district preview.
If Economedes hasn’t already turned some heads this season, Saturday’s victory definitely will. The Jaguars improved to 16-2 and won Round 1 of what is sure to look like heavyweight bouts between both teams come district play.
“They’re extremely tough and to know that we got to play them again in district is really scary,” Economedes coach Lalo Rios said.
Not only did Economedes survive the four-game, three-day tournament, it withstood its toughest test from one of the Valley’s best boys teams. Because it seemed as though the Cardinals, who lost for only the second time this season, threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Jaguars, answering every Economedes run. Though, doomed possessions at crucial points sealed their fate.
The Jaguars scored eight points off four Harlingen (14-2) turnovers in the final six minutes and held their largest lead at 76-65 with 4:04 remaining, but it was still almost not enough to stave off the Cardinals.
Harlingen pulled to within two points on several occasions after, including on Daniel Ybarra’s basket with 24 seconds remaining that cut its deficit to 86-84. The Cardinals scrambled for a turnover on the ensuing possession, which was almost successful, but Economedes’ J.J. Velasquez iced the game with a basket and foul.
“They put a lot of pressure on us, but we stuck through it,” said Velasquez, who scored 18 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “We have four or five returning varsity players. We have chemistry.”
And that chemistry was evident, which helped the Jaguars continue their surprising start to the season. Economedes never trailed by more than three points, which lasted less than two minutes, and had four players score in double digits.
Barrientos scored a game-high 21 points, Ricky Cantu recorded 19 and Jesus Gonzalez added 18.
“I think this team is really special,” Rios said. “Most of them have been on varsity for a long time so it’s scary to think we can be a real special team this year. I don’t even know if we’ve reached our full potential yet.”
The Cardinals hope they haven’t either.
Harlingen dropped its second straight tournament final this season, both of which it won last year. But unlike like last week’s double-digit loss to McAllen Rowe in the BISD championship, the Cardinals were always in this one. However, they played catch up most of the game and were plagued by costly turnovers.
“Credit to what they did, they caused us to turn it over a lot,” Harlingen coach Greg Yates said. “We got into the game we wanted, but the turnovers did hurt us.”
Gilbert Reza led the Cardinals with 18 points, while Charlie Powers scored 15.
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Harlingen vs Economedes Finals Highlights
Economedes and Harlingen battled in the championship game of the C.E. Vail Classic in La Feria. Economedes claimed a one point victory over the Cardinals.[wpvideo DBtrx3kS]
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PSJA North vs Mercedes Highlights
PSJA North and Mercedes battled for 5th place during the C.E. Vail Classic in La Feria. PSJA North caught fire and extended the lead late.[wpvideo gE4Xqwhd]
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Edcouch Elsa vs PSJA Memorial
Edcouch Elsa narrowly defeats PSJA Memorial in the C.E. Vail Classic for third place.[wpvideo DBtrx3kS]
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Port Isabel vs Brownsville Vets
Brownsville Vets took control of the game early controlling the tempo and keep Port Isabel in the rearview mirror winning the game 72-59.
[wpvideo Rd86Ujej] Share this post:
Harlingen South vs Porter Highlights
Brownsville Porter using a fast pace attack to ground the Hawks at home 53-49.[wpvideo 9Z5VkiNY
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The Huddle Episode 19
Tony Forina has Tom Campos (formerly of Hanna), David Keith (Sharyland Boys Basketball), Eddie Canales (CNN HERO) and much more this morning.Share this post:
Bobcats Top Rattlers
The Bobcats used a strong 1st and 3rd quarters to stymie the Rattlers offense. The Rattlers offense was paced by Jesse Pistokache’s 13 points.
The Bobcats controlled tempo from the tip, allowing only 2 points in the 1st quarter.
The Rattlers battled back in the 2nd scoring 18 points and closing the lead to 26-20 at the half.
However the Bobcats took control again in the third quarter allowing only 4 points and stretching the lead to 42-24.
The Bobcats were lead by Noel Espricueta’s 16 and Nick Micallef’s 14.[wpvideo E1NAnFfH
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McHi vs Edinburg North Live Video!
Joe Bowling leads the broadcast of the McHi vs Edinburg North boys basketball game. Both teams are picked to make the playoffs, and this could be an early indicator for both teams. Game Starts at 7:30pm!
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Rowe’s Veteran Ari Fernandez
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956sports.com
McALLEN – McAllen Rowe’s Ari Fernandez knew making the game-winning shot would probably only happen in his dreams. Recording a double-double, playing significant minutes or even leading his team on a simple fast break were also not realistic hopes.
Instead, Fernandez, a freshman at the time, knew the only reason McAllen Rowe coach Jose Yebra moved him up to varsity for one game three seasons ago was so he could get to feel what it was like playing at that level.
So when Yebra pulled out his seniors to honor them in the closing moments of their final game, Fernandez was shocked to know he would actually step on to the court.
Even if it was only for one minute.
“I got a little experience for the last minute,” Fernandez recalled of the Warriors’ playoff loss against Laredo Alexander in 2009. “It was a lot different. I was excited to be out there. Finally, I get the chance to step up and see what it takes to be there. For that one minute I was in there, I knew you always had to be on your game.”
A valuable lesson learned that has gone a long way for the senior shooting guard, who now plays a much different role for the Warriors.
Fernandez boasts the most experience of any other player on the squad, having played under Yebra since his sophomore season. Add to the fact that the 13th-year head coach is calling this season a “rebuilding year” after losing a strong contingent to last year’s team that went 29-4 and captured the District 30-5A championship, it’s the reason why Yebra is calling on his two returning starters – Fernandez and Azarias Avalos – to lead a young Rowe team.
“(Ari) has been the one who’s been with me three years now,” Yebra said. “Anytime that we need a big basket or anytime that we need someone to lead us into scoring, he does that just about every night. Whenever I need somebody to score at any point, I usually run a play for him and he usually comes through for us.”
Talk about having confidence in a player.
And because of his potential, it’s also no wonder why Yebra, of all the freshmen, chose Fernandez to join them on the Warriors’ playoff trip.
“It makes me feel good,” Fernandez said in response to how critical his role is on the team now. “All the hard work has paid off over the four years that I’ve been there. (Coach) talks to me in a positive way. Just to keep working hard whenever we’re losing or control the game and make plays out there.”
Just as he did this past weekend, when he helped the Warriors (9-3) capture the BISD tournament championship for the second consecutive season. Fernandez scored 25 points in Rowe’s 91-77 win against previously unbeaten Harlingen High, which it beat in last year’s BISD tournament final as well, earning him Most Valuable Player honors.
“I’m real determined to win,” Fernandez said. “I play to win. Winning is everything to me.”
Which really is the only that matters to the unselfish Fernandez, whose mindset has clearly matured since the day he sat on the bench three seasons ago not expecting to contribute in any form.
“I’m not worried about being the leading scorer or having a double-double,” he said. “Like I said before, as long as we win, I’m fine.”
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Diamondback Classic Highlights
Highlights from Sharyland’s Diamondback Classic. San Benito and Edinburg faced off for the championship with Edinburg taking the title.[wpvideo ZCUons1E] Share this post:
Tony Forina on Mel Rio’s Promotion
Tony Forina, the PSJA Bear alum, voices his opinion on Coach Rios’ promotion, and why he wasn’t consulted.[wpvideo KtyRss1S]
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The Huddle Episode 18
Diamondback Classic Pool Play Highlights
Some surprising upsets day 1. Sharyland was upset early in the day by Hidalgo. Santa Rosa was nearly defeated by Sharyland’s 2nd team (JV). Weslaco struggled with PSJA before winning in overtime.[wpvideo 2HgNR6FM]
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Harlingen vs Madison Mashup
Edinburg North vs McAllen Memorial Live 7:30pm
Joe Bowling leads our broadcast of the Edinburg North vs McAllen Memorial game. Both teams should contend for the top spot in their districts. This is an early non-district match-up between the two teams.Share this post:
Carlos Robledo takes a look at the valley’s last football game of the year.[wpvideo k8cbq8z8] Share this post:
Basketball Schedules Dec. 4-6
|1||12/5/2011||Brownsville IDEA||Marine Military||B-JV-V|
|3||12/5/2011||Rio Hondo||Brownsville St. Joseph||B-JV-V|
|4||12/6/2011||McAllen High||Alice Girls||G-JV-V|
|5||12/6/2011||San Perlita||Benavides Girls||G-JV-V|
|6||12/6/2011||Edinburg Quest Prep||Santa Rosa||G-JV-V|
|7||12/6/2011||Brownsville Hanna||Brownsville Porter||G-V|
|8||12/6/2011||Brownsville Lopez||Brownsville Pace||G-JV-V|
|9||12/6/2011||Brownsville Pace||McAllen High||B-JV-V|
|10||12/6/2011||Brownsville Rivera||Edinburg High||B-JV-V|
|11||12/6/2011||Brownsville St. Joseph||La Feria||G-JV-V|
|12||12/6/2011||Donna||Brownsville St. Joseph||B-JV-V|
|13||12/6/2011||Edcouch Elsa||Brownsville Veterans||GV-BV|
|14||12/6/2011||Edinburg Economedes||Mission H.S.||B-V|
|15||12/6/2011||Edinburg North||PSJA High||G-JV-V|
|17||12/6/2011||Harlingen South||McAllen Rowe||B-JV-V|
|18||12/6/2011||La Feria||San Perlita||B-JV-V|
|19||12/6/2011||La Villa||Port Isabel||G-JV-V|
|20||12/6/2011||Los Fresnos||La Joya||B-V-JV|
|21||12/6/2011||McAllen Memorial||Edinburg North||B-JV-V|
|22||12/6/2011||Mission H.S.||Rio Grande City Grulla||G-JV-V|
|24||12/6/2011||Palmhurst Faith Christian||Weslaco Valley Grande||B-JV-V|
|27||12/6/2011||PSJA North||Laredo United South Boys||B-JV-V|
|28||12/6/2011||PSJA North||PSJA Memorial||G-V-JV|
|31||12/6/2011||Rio Grande City||Mercedes||GV-BV|
|32||12/6/2011||Rio Grande City Grulla||Donna IDEA||B-JV-V|
|33||12/6/2011||Rio Hondo||San Isidro||G-JV-V|
|35||12/6/2011||San Benito||Brownsville Rivera||G-JV-V|
|36||12/6/2011||San Isidro||La Villa||B-JV-V|
|37||12/6/2011||Santa Maria||PSJA Southwest||B-JV-V|
|38||12/6/2011||Santa Rosa||La Joya Palmview||B-JV-V|
|41||12/6/2011||Weslaco East||La Joya Juarez-Lincoln||GV-BV|
|42||12/6/2011||La Sara||Med Tech Girls||G-V|
|43||12/6/2011||Brownsville Hanna||PSJA High||B-V|
|44||12/6/2011||Edinburg Economedes||Harlingen South||G-V|
|45||12/9/2011||La Joya Palmview||Rio Grande City Grulla||B-JV-V|
|46||12/9/2011||PSJA North||McAllen Rowe||G-JV-V|
Harlingen vs San Antonio Madison Full Game
The official 956sports.com/KHGN broadcast of the game between Harlingen and San Antonio Madison. We will be broadcasting live at 10pm tonight.Share this post:
Edinburg vs Victoria East
Edinburg will take on Victoria East at 6pm for the third place game. Edinburg loss to Laredo Alexander in the semifinals, while Victoria East loss to Laredo United South in the semis.
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It Is Done: Harlingen Charge Ends In Fourth Round With-Point Lost To Athletic Madison
BY GREG SELBER
And a cleansing rain fell on the land toward the end of the night, beginning in earnest at Falfurrias and intensifying near Encino with a steady drumbeat on the caravans making their way, wearily, back home from potential. It’s been an awfully dry year in Texas, with South Texas feeling the choking hold of drought as much as any area statewide.
In the Rio Grande Valley, where hearty, tenacious native plants survive and often thrive, and where people have gotten used to battling for respect and resources against the odds, the rain was a welcome if basically unnoticed friend Friday night. After what had just gone down up in Kingsville, 12,500 people had to be a bit logy. Numb from the mind-altering athleticism just witnessed, exhausted from having seen the first loss of 2011 by the Harlingen Cardinals, and haunted by the fading strains of what almost was. If they noticed the rain at all, it was only to shrug offhandedly, momentarily interrupting the maudlin interlude, only to fall back into mourning once more.
The hopes, dreams, and plans all went up in smoke against San Antonio Madison in the state quarterfinals, the Mavericks ending up on the top side of the barnburner everyone had predicted, their superb handful of Division I athletes all making plays consistently on the big stage, the Cardinals valiantly but vainly attempting to keep pace in the track meet.
Sooner or later in the Rare Air, it usually comes down to physicality, to speedy playmakers and the massive horses that clear the way, and in this one, the Mavs were more explosive, stronger, more poised, and thus able to take a 42-27 decision. On they go and good luck to them as they carry the Region IV banner to state.
The Cards had their chances, a litany of opportunities that will be discussed thoroughly in turn. Like the old bank robber movies, in which the character says, “One false move, and you’re dead” Harlingen blinked but a few times against Madison, and that was all she wrote, it was dead.
Still, it will be recalled as a helluva competitive night, a momentous, once-in-a-lifetime dream-to-be where the Cards kept getting off the mat to wade back in, swinging with vengeance; where the multitudes in the Red-packed stands – though they would struggle at times with knowing just how and when to cheer in the long uncharted fourth round – did their best to help lift the home boys into the state semifinals; and where the Madison Mavericks left the field in joyous celebration, knowing that they’d defeated not just a team, but one that came to the Ranch representing well over 1 million people. For this night, The Valley’s Team.
The kids, for their part, shed tears of sadness soaked with residue of anger and frustration. Some were loudly (or less so) inconsolable, others quiet as a TV on mute, others quietly commiserated with friends and family. Some pictures, some hugs. Some reflection. Wan, ironic smiles. A few young JV kids, snatched up to varsity for the evening, didn’t really know what to do, of course. But that’s OK.
The end of the road, no matter what one might have heard, is never easy to explain. Or witness, for that matter. The kids and coaches who act as if they have it together are torn to shreds inside. QB Kevin Ledesma, who rushed for 136 yards and passed for the 200-plus yards his offense had to have, looked positively gutshot, standing at the 20-yard line barely listening as some onlookers tried to console him. Absolute bone-weariness echoed in heavy-lidded eyes; he was totally drained.
Safety Daniel Ramirez, whose kill shots and unquenchable enthusiasm for the game did not desert him Friday, was the usual mix of humility and brashness. Addressing his teammates moments after the game finished, he reminded them of what they were all about.
“I don’t care what anyone says!” he screamed, sweat still pouring off his dyed head, eyes smeared with emotion. “We will always be a perfect team.” Pounding his chest with a fist, he seemed almost not to comprehend what was happening. “Step it up!” he bellowed, referencing post-game comportment, fighting still.
His point was this: no matter what happened against Madison, the Cards clawed to the brink, giving it all, leaving it all, and coming pretty damn close to the win. The Mavericks showed why they are such a dangerous club, Harlingen knows that, came in knowing that it could end up this way after it was all said and done.
But Ramirez cares very little about the orange-clads from the north, with their mercurial stars and their tiny, tiny fan base. What he cares about, sacrificed for, suffered with for four years, what he will always remember to the grave, was receding before his eyes.
“I don’t care what the scoreboard says,” he would suggest later. “To me this team is always a winner, always perfect. Even when the clock was ticking down, man, we were still fighting! I wouldn’t trade this team for anything in the world.”
So the chance to set the Valley record for single-season wins, to advance to the Final 4 marking the first such 5A Valley effort in more than a decade: all that was out the window. Madison was, as had been feared, too talented. Harlingen, gutty and resilient, hell bent on transcending stereotypes and hackneyed, shorthand portrayals, always believed, never stopped believing. But did not win.
Part of the vertigo Ramirez was undergoing stemmed from the clatter of an immovable object meeting the irrevocable force, the dissonance of being told that it was over. Forever. The force in the end was Madison, and it nudged the object, Harlingen, off to the side of 77 so that it might move on to the next milestone.
The road. The cavernous, never-ending King Ranch and its perimeter lands seem to swallow up everything that comes close to the gaping spaces of dark nothing, like a black hole on land. The rain. Its wetness eased into parched cracks and crevices, nurturing while it too, surprised. Soon the dusty, gasping scrubland would rise to life once again in the silent December night, as the pitiless yet beautiful cycle of life continued. Nature is creative destruction, unemotional and unabated, yet capable of stirring the affective heights in mere humans.
For the kids who returned late in the night, from the most important day of their lives, the cycle awaits. One day they will understand that though the state quarterfinal will some day become and afterward always remain a tantalizing loose tooth in the mind’s eye, something to play with and agonize over from time to time, the truly most important days are assuredly to come.
The relief and glory of graduation, the magic of marriage, the sanctified gift of family, the dedication to a career, the responsibility of citizenry, and the inevitable pull of death. The most important days, no matter how painful this loss will forever be, have to lie ahead, surely, though it seems impossible right now for the Cards to imagine. Entertaining the notion is, at this juncture, just too heart-wrenching to contemplate. So let us softly mouth that this is so. They will see. Symmetry, rhythm, life.
Every season, no matter how dramatic and storied, fades. And with rain, or sun’s long-dormant shine, the turn of the natural wheel, another is inexorably approaching to begin its run.
If there had been any more publicity for this one leading up to the kickoff Friday, several thousand people could have been arrested for sheer lunacy and carted away to a rubber room with no Internet. It was simply off the charts in terms of hits, messages, and interstate wars in cyberspace. Still waiting for the first real, actual fistfight between virtual email warriors, but I digress. The fact is, the game was all anyone in the Valley could think of. So many locals were in the stands so many hours before the teams ever showed up, it almost seemed awkward somehow. More than 12,000 red sardines, crammed into the general admission seats and into those that were created on the fly, into the aisles. Into the everywhere. These people are crazy! Yes.
They were waiting for destiny, for redemption, and for their piece of the rock. And for a high-scoring whingding of a ball game, which is exactly what they got. And for those that could not spirit away in the gay, sunny day to experience the contest of the ages, what haltingly passed for a television broadcast was in the offing. Some dude on 5ATexasFootball.com even watched the pregame festivities on the webcast. FROM POLAND!
There was no more time for predictions or argument…here were the principals, ready to battle.
In its first nine snaps Friday, Madison illustrated what all the fuss has been regarding their healthy supply of kids who will be playing Saturday football some day. Ripping off gains of 27, 29, 60, and 30 in rapid-fire succession, the Mavericks moved to a 7-0 lead at 8:28 of the first. The TD came courtesy of an eel-like ball of fire named Marquis Warford, who followed a scintillating 60-yard catch-and-run by the almost as impressive Byron Daniels with a 30-yard run to the end zone.
Warford accelerates like an atom being smashed, has the absurdly prescient vision that one cannot teach, and the slippery jukes and jives that the 99 Percent can only wonder about in awe. He is a marvelous football player.
The drive, if one can call it that (it was more like internal combustion) came after linebacker Jacob Herrera had roared in to collide headlong with Ledesma, bowling him over like a tenpin; the hardest hit The Observer had seen/heard all season. And after one of the Mavs’ tall and muscular defensive linemen had swooped in to bat away a Ledesma pass that had barely gotten off the Harlingen QB’s fingertips.
And it came after a partially blocked punt produced by Ramirez had given the Cards the ball and the first semi-break at its own 46. The Cards, after the smack from Herrera and the pass bat, had punted to the 10, beginning the fight for field position with a decent blow.
It all went poof in a hurry, as Madison rode its winged heroes 90 yards in just three plays, stunning the crowd with breathtaking skill.
The prescription for this one has been, against a high-scoring unit like Maddie, best to start well and get on top, forcing the run-happy Mavs to hustle. Maybe to pass. Did not happen. In fact, pass they eventually did, to such great effect as to further stun the onlookers. After attempting all of five forward passes in the third-round win over Laredo United, the orange-clads would COMPLETE five, in the first 12 minutes of play. Ah, the well-placed wrinkle.
But first, Harlingen would show that a little adversity is just that, little, nothing to become overly exercised about. Taking advantage of the amply advertised tendency of the Madison D to give up the big play, the Cards broke a 53-yard scamper under the equally fancy feet of Brian Blake, and in three more plays had tied the game, 7-7 with a 9-yard bullet from Ledesma to a leaping Alex Cisneros at 6:59. Touché, and a basketball game dressed as a track meet had begun.
On the next Madison series, its third, a 29-yard bolt by Galen McCallister, a fine facsimile of Warford, led to a 27-yard touchdown pass from QB Justin Jones to Warford. Distressing trend No. 1, all night the Mavs returned short Card kickoffs into super starting field position. Distressing trend No. 2, no way the Cards had ever seen such speed in person on a football field. Like track star Randy Bermea would later admit, there is no way to simulate such wild wheels in the practice ritual. No way, no way.
The TD to Warford came on a screen, and Gomez would later note that No. 2 seemed to hide behind the massive Madison linemen, only to emerge at full-tilt, headed into the secondary.
Another of the star-caliber Mavs, 250-pound DE-DT Vincent Taylor, then swarmed all over Ledesma for the former’s first or two sacks in the opening half. That, a motion penalty, and an incomplete pass that highlighted the superb quickness and closing jets of the back four, meant punt.
After two lightning strikes, the Mav offense now summoned thunder for a 12-play, 79-yard drive that revealed once and for all the greatness of Coach Jim Streety. Jones was 3 for 4 on the drive for 42 yards, maddeningly so. MADISON WAS PASSING. After all the verbiage about those great backs by fans on the Web, the damn guys were flipping it like a Spread team! Unreal.
Then there was the 240-pound fullback who carried for 16 yards down to the Card 32, crashing through tackles like a rampaging elephant in the bush, seeming to be stopped but coming on still, to the dismay of the Red Bird throng. With the Card defense on its hind legs, Jones, who has not been touted as anyone’s Vince Young, found running room on an 11-yard six-pointer that made it 21-7 two plays into the second period.
Danger Zone. How would the Cards respond after doing what they most certainly did not want to do, falling behind to a frenetic Madison offense that had outscored nine opponents to date?
The answer was ping pong, as in, answer with an answer.
Ledesma went up and down the bench before the kickoff, slapping hands and helmets.
“Time to adjust, it’s alright!” he hollered, hoarsely. And the defenders he was addressing, they nodded in assent. No time like now to find the range, and to retaliate. A small obstacle to overcome: two chippy unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties, as the Cards momentarily were poise-challenged in the face of such a rudely athletic onslaught.
Most other teams would have collapsed right then and there. But not this one.
Victor Cruz made a credible kick return (in another brain-stroke, Streety’s kicker avoided Bermea like the plague, and the Cards never figured out where to place their No. 2 to get him into that action) and the Cards started off, knowing that it was now or never.
Now it was 25 yards up top to Charlie Powers, who would enjoy a sensational half with three catches for 119 yards. And now it was 53 more on the bomb to the 6-foot-5 senior, placing the ball at the Madison 7 with the capacity crowd grasping for sanity. Now it was Ledesma punching in from the 2 at 9:09, Now or never? How about 21-13, Cards down eight when the supposedly long-banished extra-point bugaboo reared its ugly head once again.
No matter. The answer had been made. Harlingen was back in the game!
Here, the gamble, and now, the backfire. The Cards kicked a line drive into the front line, hoping for the carom and a quick fix for possession. But the Mavs recovered, survived, and took over near midfield. Justification: in a high-scoring back-and-forth frenzy, a team has to get the upper hand, and the lead. Once it falls behind, it may never catch up. Rationalization, yes, but reasonable strategy, some might suggest. The jury will always be out on the final adjudication. The Observer avers nay, quietly but verily nay.
Down came Madison, with nice runs from McCallister (the team gained 291 rushing but an unheard of 229 passing, in what is surely the most surprising statistical note from the night) and Jones, until a dump pass to that enormous fullback (he looked like a nose guard) put it at the Red Bird 11. A holding call set up Warford, who hauled in a lousy floater from Jones, avoided two Cards, broke a tackle on the left sideline with a move that defies belief, and dived all the way to the 1.
Harlingen had just been out-athleted and that had been the nagging fear and suspicion heading into the state quarters. Great athletes can ruin any gameplan when they make plays. It had been said that if all the Madison studs were to perform to their capacity Friday, it would he hard for the Cards to win. They did, and it was.
Jones scored from the 1 soon after at 5:37, and all the momentum seemed to wither for the Valley.
Next would ensue the probable Key Juncture of the night, in the manner of twin turnovers that handed the mojo once and for all the Mavs. In its four losses, the San Antonio crew had averaged three miscues a night, and in its nine wins, barely one. Friday Warford and Friends would take care of the ball to a tee, with no turnovers, while their foe would be guilty of four.
The first came after the kickoff, and after Ledesma (16 of 32 for 246 yards, the Cards gained 474 total yards to 520 for Maddie, as the two just missed 1,000 for the night, the Cards holding an edge in first downs, 24 to 22) had found Powers on a fantastic 41-yard gainer that negated another sack from future DI starter Taylor, who simply Friday looked like what he undoubtedly is, a man! The thrilling completion set the Cards up at the Madison 12.
Disaster! Blake was separated from the ball on the next play, with Herrera recovering at the 16. Get that touchdown there, the complexion transforms. Not, and play from behind for the duration.
Up 28-13 and looking to salt this one away early, the Mavs did not count on the Harlingen D rising up. During the half, Madison had taken advantage of the Card aggressiveness with screens, dumps, and misdirection calls; sometimes it happened that the backs and receivers narrowly missed being stomped for minus yards, only to scoot past the onrushing Cards for sizable gains.
Gomez said that in the second half, when Harlingen yielded just two scores and recovered from a first half when it allowed a mighty 314 yards, the drill was different.
“They ran things that played right into our aggression, we missed a lot of tackles,” said the coach. “At times tonight, they were just better than us, that’s true, but we adjusted at the half, did more standing our ground and staying put. It took us awhile to assimilate to their shifty running, their extra gear they have, but I thought we did that well after the half.”
That the Cards got to the half down 15 was a testament to a number of defensive kids who seemed to be wising up as the period ended. Bermea, who was probably the Card Player of the Game though he caught just four for 48, began to hit and run with passion, and would end up with eight tackles.
Ramirez (11 stops and the blocked punt) was also starting to time his breakneck flashing from safety to get a bead on the elusive Warford. Aside from the 30-yard TD run early, the wonderful junior tailback managed just 13 more total yards on 11 carries, with no run longer than five yards. For the game he would get 124, but his receiving talents would eventually spell the end.
With Nathan Prado making two tackles, the Cards forced a punt and it was Prado (10 tackles total) again, sailing like a falcon to almost get the block. The pressure paid off when the Madison boot went out of bounds at the 49. When Ledesma continued to exploit the middle with a 28-yard ramble down the 23 of the Mavs, a bit over a minute remained.
This was the chance they had been waiting for, the Part Two to the flubbed drive aborted on the fumble. But Ledesma was then picked off in the end zone by safety Richie Collins, who had a tremendous game and capped the half by running down an overthrown ball into double coverage, finding it in the end zone to kill a second Harlingen opportunity. Most kids don’t get there. Home boy got there.
As with the first oops, get that score and vault right back into the game. As it was, two golden maybes had passed unrequited. The inability to cash in would come back to haunt the Cards. Gotcho Bad.
SO CLOSE AND YET…
Collins began the third with another sprinting INT of Ledesma, as the Madison secondary, much maligned but talented nonetheless, continued its strong effort. After being burned by Powers in the first, those four closed down on the lanky receiver while also keeping an eye peeled for Bermea. The lead allowed Madison to go Cover 3, and prevent more bombs. Being unable to get much running room against the massive Madison D, the Cards had to find some other way to move it.
They got the chance to experiment after the defense made a game-saving stand, stunting the Madison charge at the Red Bird 33 after a 9-yard sack on fourth and 7 by three Cards, Tadeo Rodriguez, Julian Maisonet, and Armando Hernandez.
Sigh of relief, and time for Ledesma’s reprise of last year’s magnificent rushing effort against Northside Stevens in the regional semifinal, when he picked up more than 200 yards. Unable to get outside of Madison, the Card leader found real estate right up the gut, dealing on the Mavs for runs of 14, 10, 8, and 13. From the 12, he whipped a proper slant to Powers for a touchdown at 5:21, and well, well, Cards back in the brawl, down 28-20 and having weathered a storm.
When corner Daniel Ybarra clobbered a receiver for minus-7 on a screen and Bermea made a third-down pass defense, Madison was forced to kick. The crowd, quelled somewhat to this stage, was also back in business, rocking the stands at Javelina Stadium like the home folks used to do back in the days of Johnny Bailey and John Randle.
Alas, Harlingen went nowhere on O, a sack causing a three-and-out that gave the ball back to Maddie. This was perhaps the high-water mark on the uphill climb, but again, the Birds missed their chance to come down and get to within one or none. They would not get the same odds again.
“We did have our chances, and we just couldn’t take advantage of them enough,” Gomez said, agreeing that the three-and-out off the Madison punt was a definite turning point. “A lot of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. We played hard. We did compete, but their size did matter somewhat tonight.”
The Big Swing in momentum started with a 20-yard burst by Warford, and then a 51-yard jailbreak from McCallister, who rushed for 103 Friday. Three plays down the pike McCallister stormed in from the 1 at 0:38, and the air went out of the Harlingen balloon
Out of the balloon. But recall, yawl, that Harlingen came in 13-0, ranked No. 17 in the state, and dedicated to pushing into the fifth round for the first time in school history. The Cards gutted it up for a great march now, going 73 yards in 12 plays to again get within a score at 35-27. The money run picked up fuel when Ledesma gunned it for 20 yards to the Madison 35. Powers caught one for 9 and later Bermea gained the 1 after an 8-yard catch; at the close of that sequence, the fleet senior took a vicious shot and appeared to fumble into the end zone. Luckily, no touchback, the ball went to the Cards at the 1. After Ledesma, visibly tiring, sliced in for the score at 8:12, there was a whole lot of game still be played once again.
They refused to die!
This was the Harlingen pattern all night, answering the Madison power shots with its own haymakers. The problem was those two turnovers at the end of the first half. Not coming away with 10 points, or 14…hell seven, it just cannot be that way in the deep playoffs.
Madison ran the kick back to its 39, suffered a motion penalty in the face of a deafening roar from the fans, and then got zero on a run from Warford, who was smashed by Jesus Zuviri and Maisonet, who played a solid ball game in relief of injured Justice Ortega. An incomplete pass made it third and 15 from the Maddie 34, with visions of a tying drive floating in 12,500 heads.
But it was no normal INC. On the play, Ybarra, who had returned a pair of errant throws for 12 points last week against Warren, stepped in front of a Mav and appeared to have the ball, headed toward eternal stardom. At the last minute, Madison’s kid yanked one of Ybarra’s arms and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf. Ah. Ah. Sigh. Close to the greatest play of all. And a universe away.
Then it was over. Stone over. Ineluctably over, with Warford gliding downfield like a panther, grabbing a sweet Jones aerial in stride, and racing in to score on a 66-yard backbreaker at 7:06. Great athletes make plays. If all the great athletes (Taylor, Warford, McCallister, Taylor, Collins) make them on the same field, the same night, you do not win.
And they did not.
The Cards grinded out a dignity stop, forcing a turnover on downs after Madison drove to the HHS 15, and then set sail down to the Mav 17 before the fourth and last turnover, an INT by Shawn Murrell on which he tipped the ball up to himself and corralled it while crossing into his own end zone. A tremendous display of agility and skill, fitting one supposes for the theme of the night.
Harlingen, 13-1 and done; Madison, 10-4 and pedal to the floor. The realization was crushing.
LOVE/HATE THIS PART
We can all kick back and ponder the tea leaves left among the ashes of Friday’s amazing adventure in Kingsville. Some will say that the Valley’s time has come, the gap has been permanently narrowed between itself and San Antonio, and that 2011 was a terrific success, with Memorial battling SA Reagan to the end and the Cards breaking off a bloody chunk of Madison before succumbing. Reasonable
Others will suggest that the Valley kids got close but did not manage to do the job when it mattered most. Fairly reasonable, if harsh. When will the next Valley team return to this stage of the Dance? Hard to say with any real certainty.
There can be no doubt that the Valley represented well in the playoffs this year, or at least its three top teams did. No one can really say what the future holds, honestly, and right now it is probably best to just savor the memories, the high points, lament the nightmares and the low points, and just plain take a break.
It has been an exhausting season, from spring ball through summer to the fall campaign just completed. The good folks at 956sports have endeavored to bring a super group of fans, coaches and players as much information as they could handle, and one surmises that on that count we have succeeded to some degree. Down the road, who knows what slick innovations we might stumble into. Or for whom we shall toil in tandem.
So Harlingen is out. One still cannot truly believe it to be so. Watching the Cards and their supporters moon their way through the postgame ritual was on the surface not unlike any other late-round demise that has been endured by countless teams in countless years and countless areas of the state. After all, one team will win and one will lose. That is written in stone. People in the media are supposed to be objective, of course.
But it means more, good and bad, when it’s a group of kids from your homeland, kids you watched grow, improve, strive, and achieve. If fans in the stands saw a certain sideline someone madly waving his hands Friday, hollering like a banshee, and trying like hell to will the damn thing to turn around once and for all, well, the plea is guilty. Could not help it. Would/will do it again some day, am afraid.
Enough. Let the words of the heroes of the day power our last, heartfelt paean to a campaign just concluded, before its time. We owe them that, and so much more for what they have accomplished in the glittering glory of a genius season.
Manny Gomez, who told his fellas to keep their heads up and always remember the special things they achieved in 2011: “We give credit to Madison, they played well…But it’s real, just real. We got beat. We fought them all the way and we never gave up. We are proud to be Cardinals!”
Daniel Ramirez, who will now ponder HHS hoops and a number of offers to play college football: “No regrets, none. We played with all our hearts and we will never really accept losing, We all love each other, teammates, right now, that’s all there is.”
Daniel Ybarra, another basketball star about to make the grudging transition to the hardwood: “We always trusted each other, had our backs, always played with all we had. Hey, I’m one of the skinniest guys on this team and I was never scared to hit someone, this is the best team ever to me.”
And finally Randy Bermea, part of the mammoth heart and undying soul of this one-of-a-kind band of champs, along with Prado and Blake and so many other memorable young men: “Can you add one more thing, please? I just want to let people know that I am grateful to God for allowing all of this to happen. This season has been a blessing for us.”
Sure thing, kid. And for us.
And as has been written a time or two in the past in this spot, after such a wonderful series of candid quotes: that’s all there is to say. That’s that for 2011.
See you on the flipside, folks.Share this post:
The Huddle Episode 17
Laredo Alexander vs Edinburg Semifinals
Alex Del Barrio leads our broadcast of Laredo Alexander and Edinburg in the semi-finals of the Craig Smith Basketball Tournament.Share this post:
Harlingen vs SA Madison Live!
Alex Del Barrio leads our broadcast of the game between Harlingen and San Antonio Madison.Share this post:
Cardinals vs Madison Preview
Preview on the game between Madison and Harlingen in Kingsville.[wpvideo bGctBAwc] Share this post: