HIDALGO — Excellence is the expectation for the Hidalgo boys basketball program.
The Pirates have reached the playoffs in each of head coach Gus Sanchez’s 18 seasons at the helm.
And while this year’s group is off to a 4-0 start in District 32-4A and in good position to extend their playoff streak to 19 straight, the Pirates are in pursuit of something bigger — a third consecutive district championship.
“Kids come in and they see the banners, they know the history, all our kids know the history there because somebody played or some relative played. They don’t want to let the history down,” Sanchez said. “They don’t want to let the tradition down, so they come in and it’s a lot of pressure on our kids, but they know what to expect from them. Day in and day out, they work for it — it’s there on the banners, so they know what the expectations are here.”
And Sanchez has just the right guy to deliver for the Pirates — his son and senior point guard Gus Sanchez.
A four-year letterman, the younger Sanchez has averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and 9.7 steals in 19 games this season. Sanchez hopes his group can go on a playoff run like never before at Hidalgo.
“I want to remember my senior year by taking it the farthest Hidalgo has ever gone,” the senior point guard said. “The last time it was my cousins, then before them it was my dad, so just getting further than all of them is how I want to finish it off. He coaches me hard, always since I was a kid, so that’s really good because it makes me a better player.”
Complementing Sanchez at the two is another senior guard in three-year letterman Julio Zamorano. He’s appeared in all 25 games for the Pirates this season, carrying the load when Sanchez missed time due to injury. Combined, Sanchez and Zamorano average north of 12 steals per game.
“I’ve been playing with Gus for a pretty long time,” Zamorano said. “Sometimes we just look at each other, we have a lot of chemistry, so whenever we see a guy that can’t handle the ball that well, that’s when we know when to trap and when to go.”
After starting a bit slow by their own admission, the Pirates are full steam ahead on their ship and chasing that third straight district title.
One of the main reasons Hidalgo has been rolling has been the return of junior post Kyle Perales. A three-sport athlete who plays baseball, basketball and football, Perales suffered a broken hand during Hidalgo’s football game against La Feria on Nov. 1.
He said couldn’t wait to get back on the court with his teammates.
“It was crazy, I would see little mistakes that we would make that we could do better at and it drove me nuts,” Perales said about sitting out with his hand injury.
Since he’s been back, the junior is averaging a double-double with 17.2 points per game and 12.8 rebounds in 13 games.
“It’s been a while since we had a kid like that inside,” coach Sanchez said. “Sometimes you have a kid inside but doesn’t demand the basketball — he does. He demands the basketball, he knows how to work he has real good footwork for his youth, and our kids are looking for him. Of course, it was a process to know to kind of mesh our guards and posts, but now we know there’s a presence inside. Anytime you give him the ball inside, good things happen.”
Perales said Hidalgo’s inside-outside attack with him down low and Sanchez and Zamorano at the guard spots helps keep defenses guessing.
“It’s really beneficial to us because they can’t focus on double-teaming one person because we’ll kick it out right away and someone else will score, so they have to play everybody 1-on-1, and we’ve been winning our 1-on-1 matchups and that’s been winning us games,” he said.
At 4-0 in district, the Pirates have already taken down two playoff teams from a year ago in Rio Hondo and Port Isabel.
“Our mindset is just practicing hard everyday, playing hard as a team, and doing anything we can to get that ‘W,’” Zamorano said.
Next up for the Pirates is a road game against the Zapata Hawks scheduled for 8 tonight at Zapata High School.
“We’re not looking ahead of any games, we’re just preparing for each game, taking it one game at a time until we get that district championship, and then make some noise in the playoffs,” the younger Sanchez said.