MISSION — From the opening tipoff, McAllen Rowe center Yulissa Yebra was in the zone down low for the Warriors.
She snagged a bounce pass from Rowe guard Jasmin Cantu out of the corner, sidestepped right and finished around a Mission Veterans defender on the baseline. On the next possession, Yebra grabbed a contested rebound off a missed 3-pointer and put it back up off the glass for another bucket.
After a steal, she took a pass from driving guard Destiny Menchaca and finished through hard contact to convert an and-one opportunity from the free-throw line. The surreal series was part of a big first quarter for Yebra, who helped the Warriors to seize a commanding early lead and top the Patriots 45-37 on Tuesday afternoon at Mission Veterans High School.
“I was helping my team out getting those rebounds and just helping them win, really,” Yebra said.
Rowe jumped out to a comfortable early advantage, leading Mission Veterans 14-4 at the end of the first thanks to Yebra’s overwhelming presence in the low post.
The Warriors’ center scored 12 of her team’s first 14 points and tallied seven rebounds in the opening quarter. She ultimately finished the contest with a double-double that featured a game-high 23 points and 10 boards.
Yebra credits her team’s good ball movement and chemistry for helping her team mount an early run and build a double-digit lead.
“We were just working together,” she said. “It was our teamwork.”
The Patriots got off to a slow shooting night and found themselves falling behind fast when Rowe capitalized on the opportunities created by Yebra’s rebounding and defense.
“We weren’t moving like we normally do and reacting. We were a step slow and Rowe beat us to some easy shots and loose balls,” Mission Veterans head coach Rafael Cantu said. “We got ourselves into a hole and we had to fight back, but when you’re in such a deep hole like we were, fighting back and getting it within five was great. It was a tall hill to climb and we just couldn’t quite get there.”
The Warriors were able to consistently sink shots down low, which led the Patriots to experiment with a few different defensive sets. Mission Veterans began dropping into a 2-3 zone to contain Rowe’s shooters in the paint, and later a man-to-man half-court trap scheme to try to disrupt the flow of the offense.
“It was to try to use our quickness a little bit and maybe create some turnovers, some easy shots and get them out of a rhythm. We were just sitting back and we were in a zone, and our zone needed to be a little more aggressive,” Cantu said. “Zone can’t be tentative or soft, or girls are going to get the ball in front of you and they were bigger and had some tall post players. We were letting them catch it in front of us too much instead of beating them to the spot.”
The Patriots adjusted to account for the Warriors’ inside game and Yebra’s big day beginning in the second quarter. They limited her to three rebounds in the final 24 minutes of play, which allowed them to make a comeback bid.
Point guard Ronnie Cantu started to carve out lanes in Rowe’s defense, which opened up space for Mission Veterans’ shooters to get going. Cantu finished with a team-leading 14 points.
The Patriots were able to scrap back enough to make it a two-possession game in the fourth.
“I was proud that we came back. We weren’t going to let them just run away with it, that’s the mark of this team,” Cantu said. “In this past weekend’s tournament, we came back three or four teams when we were down double digits and came back to win games. But our luck ran out today; Rowe was just a little more ready to play than we were.”
The Warriors, though, still held a decisive rebounding advantage over the Patriots with forward Tory Enriquez chipping in another 10 of the team’s 30 total boards. Rowe also shot an incredibly efficient 54% from the floor, which proved too much for Mission Vets to overcome in the end.
“We were running our plays right, going through it every time and getting it done,” Yebra said. “We’re getting better at working together and playing as a team. We’re doing pretty good right now.”
Mission Veterans will face the Hidalgo Pirates in its next non-district game at 7 p.m. Tuesday, while McAllen Rowe will return to action against Edinburg North at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Edinburg.