HIDALGO — It doesn’t take long for typical basketball fan to understand what the Hidalgo Pirates are all about on the hardwood: playing fast.
Hidalgo, the 18th-ranked Class 4A team in the state according to the Texas Girls Coaches Association poll, put that scorching team speed on display from the opening tip Tuesday night.
The Pirates (25-4, 5-0) charged out ahead of visiting Port Isabel 10-0 in the opening seconds of their District 32-4A duel for first place and never looked back, using a combination of dominant defense and a ferocious fastbreak attack to take down the Tarpons in a wire-to-wire 84-39 victory at Hidalgo High School.
“We’ve always been a run-and-gun team. I told the girls, ‘Don’t stop,’” Hidalgo head coach Saul Arjona said. “The more we run, the more points we’re going to get. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past several years since I’ve been here. We’re an up-tempo team and that’s our philosophy and they do a pretty good job doing it.”
Port Isabel quickly clawed back with a run of its own to cut the Pirates’ advantage to 12-9, but that was the closest it came to taking a lead of its own.
Hidalgo’s starting five unleashed an offensive barrage from that point forward that was fueled primarily by the group’s swarming full court man-to-man defense that pressed the Tarpons and forced them into several traps.
“We do a lot of defensive looks. We can kind of change the momentum when we change into something else,” Arjona said. “We like to trap a lot and run the full court press if we can keep our momentum going. It worked for us because one tall girl and our other girls are pretty good out there, so they know what to do.”
“We like to dig the ball from beneath them,” Pirates’ senior forward Soleil Garza said. “We try to trap them and go after their blind side.”
Hidalgo carried a 26-11 lead into the second quarter, where the team started slipping a bit defensively. Guards Ryley Galvan and Sabrina Gonzalez led the way for Port Isabel in the quarter and the second half offensively.
The Galvan and Gonzalez duo combined for six steal, four assists and 11 and 14 points, respectively.
But the Pirates managed to overwhelm the Tarpons with offensive firepower. They entered the intermission with a 29-point edge, and both Garza and Sanchez were shooting at 100% clips from the floor in the half.
“We’re getting better. In the beginning of the season we started this, but now we’re getting more chemistry,” Garza said. “Honestly, we’re more disciplined this year and we’re getting into it more. I feel like this year is our best year.”
Hidalgo continued to fire away and play at breakneck speed in the second half, but proved that they could score in a half-court offense too.
The Pirates fed their prolific post players — Garza, Elisa De La Peña and Melanie Salinas — at the top of the key for reliable baskets. But when they found themselves blanketed by Tarpon defenders, they showed off their adept passing skills hitting their guards on the perimeter for spot up 3-pointers.
“My other post and I know how to work it outside, and our guards know how to shoot the ball,” Garza said.
“We know they’re going to get the rebound if we miss,” Sanchez said. “They’re going to put it back up and make it.”
The Pirates ultimately outscored the Tarpons 31-15 in the third and fourth quarters before letting their foot off the gas in the closing minutes of the contest. The team tallied 15 steals on the night and sank 25 of 40 shots from the floor for a 63% clip.
Garza recorded a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double while her two fellow posts weren’t far behind. De La Pena ended her night with nine points and nine rebounds, while Salinas finished with seven points and nine boards.
Sanchez and point guard Carolina Carbajal also each enjoyed electric nights shooting the ball.
Carbajal tallied 21 points and four assists on 60% shooting. Sanchez, meanwhile, notched a game-high 22 points after shooting 83.3% from the floor and 57.1% from behind the 3-point line.
Hidalgo’s top six rotation players — Carbajal, De La Peña, Garza, Salinas, Sanchez and Vanessa Espinoza — are all seniors and their familiarity and growing chemistry has helped the Pirates pummel all the district competition they’ve faced.
“This is a senior ball club. They’ve been together since seventh grade and ever since I saw them, I was thinking, ‘They’re going to be pretty good; they have a lot of potential,’” Arjona said. “They’ve been doing pretty good. They play real well together and they’re multisport athletes. Those six girls are always hanging out.”
The Pirates will return to action when they travel to face Zapata in a district matchup at 6:30 p.m. Friday.