MISSION — Sharyland Pioneer has been knocking on the door of the area round of the playoffs for three-straight seasons.
The Diamondbacks dropped their playoff debut 45-28 to Edcouch-Elsa in 2016. The following year, Mercedes dealt Pioneer a 68-31 defeat. And just last season, the Diamondbacks ended up on the wrong side of a shootout as they fell 56-55 to Port La Vaca Calhoun.
But this year’s group has the look of a team ready to break the second-round wall down like the Kool-Aid Man.
“That loss (to Calhoun) made us hungry,” senior receiver Lavar Lindo said. “We poured our hearts into that game. We were determined to win that game, but unfortunately things didn’t go our way, but we’re hungry this year and ready to come out swinging.”
Driven by a last-second failed two-point conversion attempt that would have put the Diamondbacks ahead of Calhoun and into the area round, Pioneer is motivated to make program history in 2019.
“We were so close, we were right there. Every day when we work out, there’s always that extra push to get that extra rep, that extra set in,” junior quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger said. “We want to get past that first round and keep going.”
Head coach Tom Lee returns for his second year along with seven starters on each side of the ball. Back in the fold for the Diamondbacks offense are key players at skill positions in Marburger and Lindo, along with junior running back Tristan Castillo and senior receiver Luke Padilla.
Marburger totaled 1,036 passing yards and nine touchdowns during his sophomore season. Castillo was Mr. Everything for Pioneer as he added 1,038 all-purpose yards and seven scores. The players out wide — 6 feet 4 inches tall Lindo (25 catches, 623 yards, seven touchdowns) and Padilla (31 catches, 478 yards, four touchdowns) — are back to give Marburger one of the top receiver tandems across South Texas.
“It’s a quarterbacks dream to have those two guys out there. If you double-team one, you’re going to leave the other one open. When we mesh together, it’s going to be fun to watch,” Marburger said.
Their connections run deep. Lindo, Padilla and Marburger are all starters on the Pioneer basketball team, and Castillo has been best friends with Marburger since elementary school.
“I don’t think there’s a team that can stop us,” Castillo said. “I’m extremely confident in the guys that we have at the positions we have. I feel like we’re going to do great things.”
As for the Diamondbacks defense, Erik Torres causes problems for opposing offensive lines from his nose guard position, creating opportunities for linebackers to swarm and make plays in Pioneer’s 3-4 scheme. Playing behind Torres is linebacker Kyle Sullivan, the Diamondbacks second-leading tackler from a season ago with 85 total stops and eight tackles for loss.
Pioneer will also have a new face in the secondary, but he’s no stranger to making big plays. Senior safety Chis’mere Mallard transferred to Pioneer from McAllen High where he had 65 tackles, three interceptions and one forced and recovered fumble.
Pioneer’s defense was tested over the summer as they qualified for the 7-on-7 state tournament, winning all three games in pool play, the first Valley team to accomplish the feat.
“Our secondary did good at state in 7-on-7, I’m excited to see how our coverage looks this year. Up front we’re going to be solid, and our linebackers are going to be young but they’re learning,” Torres said.
Now, the Diamondbacks begin their quest for the second-round, a place the Diamondbacks have never been, but are confident they can reach.
“We have to show who we are and make a name for ourselves,” Lindo said.