DONNA — With valuable seconds ticking away in a contest with the atmosphere and intensity of a playoff game, Donna High desperately needed a bucket. After leading for the entirety of the second half, Donna found itself locked in a tie with district rival Mercedes at 45 with less than 40 seconds to play.
The Bravettes fired a 3-pointer from the corner that clanked out before passing it out to forward Yzella Perez on the perimeter. She pump faked a 3 before dribbling back up to the top of the key to reset and drove to the rim.
Perez drew a key foul under the basket and sank both free throws to lift Donna High to a 47-45 nail-biter of a victory over the Tigers and keep the Bravettes’ playoff hopes alive Friday night at Donna High School.
“As a coach, I’m very proud of my team. We knew what we needed to do and where we stood coming into these last three games, so we’ve been taking it one game at a time,” Donna High head coach Lori Pedroza said. “We know we needed to win out to have any sort of chance. Our defense really stepped it up today and our bench, whether they were in or on the bench, really gave us that spark that we needed because I think the energy came through them and our fans. Our girls just felt it on the court.”
It was an all-out team effort to secure the win for Donna in a hard-fought battle from beginning to end.
Mercedes climbed out to an early lead thanks in large part to the exceptional play of senior forward Mika Vento. The Tigers’ premier post player was lethal operating from the high post, knocking down several mid-range jumpers to jolt her team to a 12-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
She finished the night with a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double on 75% shooting to go with three assists, two blocks and two steals.
“Mika played well,” Mercedes head coach Santiago Rivas said. “She was very strong. She was pushing the ball and getting underneath trying to score and hitting those little jumpers and taking it to the basket.”
But that’s when Donna began its charge back into the game.
The Bravettes reeled of an 8-0 run midway through the quarter to seize a five-point edge, the biggest lead for either team to that point. Donna employed a full-court press that helped it carry a four-point advantage into the half and burst out to a hot start in the third as well.
“That second quarter killed us with some turnovers,” Rivas said. “I think that the second quarter and the beginning of the third kind of killed us and we were in too much of a hole. But Donna played well, they were fired up.”
The Bravettes scored 11 of the first 12 points in the second half and expanded their lead to seven heading to the fourth quarter after dropping into an air-tight, half-court man-to-man set defensively.
“They were going out and they left it all out on the court. I’m very proud of their effort tonight and defensively, we really stepped up,” Pedroza said. “I’m very proud of their effort tonight and defensively, we really stepped up.”
The Tigers, however, didn’t back down. At the 4-minute mark of the fourth, Mercedes began charging back into the game with a full-court press.
The Tigers wrestled away several steals and converted with transition buckets to trim the Bravettes’ lead until tying it up with less than a minute to play.
But ultimately, Donna’s dominant defense and Mercedes’ struggles from the free-throw line were the deciding factors down the stretch.
Perez led the way offensively for Donna with 15 points and seven rebounds, while forward Amariyah Matthews tallied 12 points and nine rebounds. Guard Ivette Valladares added 10 points, five assists, five steals and four rebounds before fouling out at the tail end of the fourth.
“This was a total team effort,” Pedroza said. “We’ve been waiting for this full-out 32 minutes of pure Bravette basketball, and tonight it seemed like they bought into it.”
“Down the stretch we might have just run out of gas, but I’m proud of the girls . They fought hard until the end,” Rivas said. “They did play hard and you could tell they really wanted to win, the ball just didn’t go our way.”
The Bravettes’ win throws a monkey wrench into the District 32-5A playoff picture with one game to go in the regular season.
Combined with Tuesday’s results elsewhere, Mercedes drops into a three-way tie with Edcouch-Elsa and Valley View at 7-6 in district play, while Donna leaps into a tie with Brownsville Pace for fifth place at 6-7.
Both teams will look to clinch playoff berths in their returns to the court. Donna will travel to face Valley View in a win-or-go-home game at 6 p.m. Tuesday, while Mercedes will host Brownsville Lopez for its regular season finale at the same time Tuesday.
“We want to finish strong and take care of the ball regardless of who we play if we hopefully make the playoffs. Then we want to go in strong to the playoffs,” Rivas said. “If we get in, we have a shot. If we take care of the ball, I think we’ll be fine. I think every other part of our game is good.”
“We’ve got to win out to have some kind of chance to get into the playoffs. After that win on Tuesday, that was one down. Now today, that’s two down with one more to go,” Pedroza said. “Like I told them at the end, ‘We’ve just got to bring it. We’ve just got to bring 32 minutes of Bravette basketball,’ and hopefully that’s what we can do Tuesday.”