MISSION — Sharyland Pioneer guard Natalie Reyes slowly dribbled up court to the top of the 3-point arc to set up the team’s offense.
The Diamondbacks fired the ball back and forth to one another along the perimeter, while sophomore forward Jordan Bravo slipped by an off-ball screen and made a backdoor cut toward the basket from the corner. Reyes tossed a lob pass over the Rattlers defense and hit Bravo in stride for an easy layup.
The over-the-top connection was one of many for the Diamondbacks, who used a big second half performance spearheaded by Bravo and Reyes to notch a 46-32 comeback win over Rio Grande City to remain perfect in district play Friday night.
“That was awesome,” Reyes said of her team’s reliance on backdoor cuts offensively. “It’s super fun playing with it and watching as we go on. I think it was just cool and fun.”
A fiercely competitive and defensive oriented first half saw the Diamondbacks fall behind in the first quarter.
The Rattlers were able to consistently pester Sharyland Pioneer in the early going whenever the team would try to pass down low or post up against a bigger defender. That led to plenty of steal opportunities for Rio Grande City, which converted those turnovers into transition points with several coast-to-coast layups.
Rattler forward Alyssa Reyna got off to a scorching hot start, netting 12 of the team’s 14 points in the frame to give Rio Grande City a 14-12 edge. Reyna finished the contest with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds on 62% shooting.
“I thought we did really good early on. I though the kids were playing well,” Rio Grande City head coach Gus Valenciana said. “But as soon as it got a little tight, that’s when we started back-peddling and disappearing a little bit.”
The offense disappeared for both teams at the outset of the second quarter. Both teams were held scoreless for the first 4 minutes of play before a Reyna jump hook and a Danielle Rangel scoop-and-score put each side on the board.
The Diamondbacks managed to pull ahead 20-18 before the halftime break and the game looked like it was well on its way toward being a defensive slugfest. That’s when Sharyland Pioneer head coach Nicole Villarreal told her group to buckle down and be patient.
“(Coach told us to have) more patience, make sure we’re closing gaps more and being big on defense,” Reyes said. “Also grabbing rebounds, kicking it out and doing what we need to.”
Pioneer came out of the half firing on all cylinders offensively. The Diamondbacks, led by Bravo and Reyes, scored 18 points in the quarter to nearly double their total and gain some much-needed separation.
Bravo ended the night with 12 points and a pair of blocks and steals, while Reyes tallied a team-high 14 points, four rebounds and three assists.
That’s when the Diamondbacks’ ball movement started to pick up and the backdoor lanes to the hoop began to open up, while Rio Grande City’s defense struggled to contain Pioneer’s lob passes over the top into the paint.
“For us, we’re not used to being patient. I think we really came together and listened to our coaches and Audrey (Hornaday) on the bench,” Reyes said. “We were really patient, and everything just opened up for us. I’m super proud of the girls and we did good.”
“I don’t think we played bad, it’s just that at crucial points we had breakdowns. Some of our kids started looking at the player they were defending, and they don’t know where the ball is. All of the sudden they’d throw it and they wouldn’t even know it was coming,” Valenciana said. “They got way too many easy baskets and we just broke down defensively at the wrong times. They just kept on getting people wide open on those backdoor cuts. That stuff breaks your back.”
Pioneer upped its defensive pressure to start the fourth, meeting Rio Grande City’s guards in the backcourt and forcing them to dribble toward the sideline. The tactic generated lots of turnovers for the Diamondbacks down the stretch, who generated 13 steals to help build upon their late lead.
“Once we start going and keep getting that momentum, it just blows up,” Reyes said. “We end up feeding off of it and it’s amazing in the end.”
The win boosts the Diamondbacks’ district record to 7-0 on the season and creates a three-way tie for second place in a tight District 31-5A race between the Rattlers, Mission Veterans and PSJA Memorial at 5-2.
“Mindset wise, we need to listen to our coaches. We’re learning from our mistakes and learning from our games,” Reyes said. “I’m really excited to see how everything ends up going. We have a good district and I’m excited.”
Sharyland Pioneer will get back to work when it travels to PSJA Southwest at 6 p.m. Tuesday, while Rio Grande City will face off against Mission Veterans at the same time in Mission.