McALLEN — The McAllen Rowe Warriors entered their third district game of the season and their first of the new year in desperate need of a marquee win. After falling in an early hole to the visiting McAllen High Bulldogs, the team faced an uphill battle just to stay in the contest.
But sophomore point guard Destiny Menchaca led Rowe through a big second half highlighted by hot outside shooting and impenetrable interior defense to lift the Warriors to a 33-30 come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs on Friday afternoon at McAllen Rowe High School.
“It feels really good. We had been fighting and praying for this game,” said Menchaca, who scored a game-high 12 points. “Some of us got a little motivated by our 0-2 beginning in district and it just got us a little bit more motivated to come out and win this game.”
McHi sprinted out to an early advantage thanks in large part to a press that the team stuck to for most of the first quarter. The full-court pressure flustered Rowe, which was limited to just five first-quarter points on one converted field goal.
The Bulldogs were able to drop into a 1-3-1 zone and continued pickpocketing the Warriors for 17 steals in the game to create easy transition scoring opportunities. Junior forward Celina Saenz had already racked up six steals by herself at the half.
“Our defense is amazing. I tell the girls when a team has to set up on offense, it’s very rare that they’re going to score on us,” McHi head coach Stephanie Cantu said. “We’ve been working on it all year. I know what we have and I know my girls. We’re scrappy, quick and we work a lot on how to read passes, stuff like that.”
Menchaca and the Warriors, however, anticipated most of what the Bulldogs threw at them and were ready to capitalize later on in the contest.
“We knew that they were going to start off fast and get tired at the end,” she said. “They were going to get frustrated, so we just had to keep our cool and see how they reacted to our defense.”
The Bulldogs found most of their offensive success on drives and slashing plays that developed out on the perimeter. Guards Genesis Garza and Kaylee Lopez were both able to shake defenders loose for open looks and combined for 15 points.
But McHi did not take advantage of its opportunities from the charity stripe. Despite drawing a lot of contact, the Bulldogs converted on just 13 of 24 free throw attempts.
“We missed 11 free throws and that’s uncalled for,” Cantu said. “I’ve told my team over and over that the game is going to be won at the line and it’s not the free throws at the end, but the ones at the beginning. We were very cold underneath the basket, so that hurt us there at the end.”
That’s when Rowe began to make its move.
The Warriors adjusted defensively, switching into a zone scheme that sought to take away the drives and post up opportunities that had helped the Bulldogs gain their early lead. It worked like a charm, as Rowe held McHi scoreless for the first 4 minutes and 37 seconds of the second quarter.
“We noticed on film that they’re very good at making that pass to the high post there around the free throw area and 3-point line. They do a little cross-screen action, so we were just telling the post to jump to that side and try to slow down the (ball handler) from cutting through and going underneath,” Rowe head coach Alex Robles said. “We just wanted to make sure that we kept them in front (of us) and used our length because we’re pretty long as a team across the board. It helped us out making them try to beat us from the outside instead of getting to the rim constantly like they have in other games to this point.”
That defensive intensity carried over into the second half and the Warriors were able to further trim the deficit through their fastbreak offense and dominance on the boards. Menchaca and center Yulissa Yebra combined for 19 rebounds and a pair of steals.
But the play of the game came with 33 seconds to go in the third quarter, when Menchaca buried a heat-check 3-pointer to break a tie and give Rowe its first lead of the game and the confidence to close it out.
“I wasn’t really sure what happened,” Menchaca said. “I was just in shock.”
“(Destiny) hit that 3 and everybody took a deep sigh of relief and we realized we’re in this and we can win it,” Robles said. I’m glad that shot went in because it really turned the tide and rhythm of the game.”
The Warriors rallied to maintain their three-point lead and secured their first district win in the process, creating a logjam in the District 30-6A playoff picture with six teams within a game of second place.
“It’s like I told the girls this year in our district we’re not overlooking anybody,” Cantu said. Everybody’s got good players this year and everyone’s playing really well, so it’s going to be a fight every game.”