HIDALGO — The Hidalgo Pirates came racing down the court after swiping the ball away with seconds quickly ticking off the clock.
Point guard Carolina Carbajal ran to the top of the 3-point arc before looking right and firing a chest pass to forward Elisa De La Peña.
De La Peña gathered, took a step forward and rose up for the shot. She stopped and listened as the ball swished through the net less than a second before the buzzer sounded.
De La Peña’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer capped a sensational 30-2 second-quarter run, as the Pirates used their full-court press and transition offense to sprint past Zapata for an 80-18 victory on senior night to complete an undefeated run through district play Monday night at Hidalgo High School.
“I told the girls, ‘Let’s get ready for playoffs,’” Hidalgo head coach Saul Arjona said. “Whatever we do here is what we do in practice. Let’s hustle, try to run, play tight, physical defense and put points up there.’”
That’s precisely what the Pirates did during their regular season finale.
Hidalgo (33-4, 14-0) ran an airtight full-court press against the Hawks and forced them into traps in the corners time and time again.
The aggressive defense flustered Zapata all night and mostly prevented the team from fully setting up its offense on most trips up the floor. It also enabled the Pirates to strip away several loose balls.
The Pirates ended the night with 24 steals as a unit, with starters Carbajal, Soleil Garza and Savannah Sanchez each tallying five or more individually.
That led to easy shots on the other end, as Hidalgo connected on eight 3-pointers and shot a staggering 76% from the field as a squad. The team’s six seniors — Carbajal, De La Peña, Vanessa Espinoza, Garza, Melanie Salinas and Sanchez — combined for 69 points in their final home game.
“This group of seniors have been playing since seventh grade together and they’ve been district champions ever since. I’m glad that it happened here because we’re cutting the net. It feels good to be district champs and it feels good to go 14-0, especially here in front of these fans.”
The Pirates had already clinched the District 32-4A title, for the fourth consecutive season, but Monday’s victory vaulted them into rarified air with a 14-0 district campaign. It’s the second straight season they have won every district game and extends their current district winning streak to 41 games.
Hidalgo became the first of what could potentially be several Rio Grande Valley teams to record a perfect run through district play. Brownsville Veterans, McAllen Memorial and Sharyland Pioneer have already clinched championships in their respective districts, but could improve their records to 14-0, too, with wins in their final regular season games.
Brownsville Veterans (31-5, 13-0) will look to remain unbeaten in district when it hosts Edcouch-Elsa at 6 p.m. tonight, but the Yellowjackets will be playing for their playoff lives in a crowded District 32-5A.
McAllen Memorial (20-12, 13-0) will hope to do the same when the Mustangs visit La Joya Juarez-Lincoln at the same time. The Huskies will be looking to win their first District 30-6A game of the season.
Then Sharyland Pioneer (21-12, 13-0) will travel to Rio Grande City trying to cap off an undefeated district run in what should be an exciting postseason prelude with the atmosphere and intensity of a playoff game.
As for Hidalgo, the team can wait patiently now to see who it will square off against in the bi-district round of playoff action between Robstown and West Oso. Either way, Arjona and the Pirates feel confident and prepared heading into the postseason regardless of their potential opponents.
“I feel comfortable going into the playoffs,” Arjona said. “As long as we press and cover our responsibilities, we should be good. As soon as we trapped, one girl would say, ‘I’m going to steal it,’ and then go on offense. I told them, ‘Let’s play defense first and offense second.’ If we’re all playing defense, then we can attack on offense.”