PHARR — During the first quarter of their pivotal District 32-5A clash on the final day of the regular season, Valley View guards Daniela Garza and Lexi Ortegon sprinted down the floor trying to break through Donna High’s 2-2-1 press.
Garza shed her defender, dribbled the ball up the sideline and to the top of the 3-point arc on the right wing. She paused before firing a pass into the corner for Ortegon, who quickly rose up for the shot with Bravettes defenders closing in.
Nothing but net.
The heat-check 3-pointer was one of four consecutive buckets for Ortegon behind the arc, all assisted by Garza, to retake the lead from the Bravettes. Ortegon and Garza, Valley View’s only two seniors, shouldered the offensive load in their final home game to break the Tigers’ lengthy playoff drought and top Donna High 52-46 on Tuesday night at Valley View High School.
“It feels so good,” Ortegon said. “We prepared all year for this game to get second place in our district. The first time we played, we lost in their gym, but here we came back and showed them what we have in us.”
Ortegon, the Tigers’ starting point guard, was spectacular from the opening tip.
After falling in a quick 5-0 hole in the opening minutes of play, she caught fire. Ortegon led a ferocious comeback after scoring 16 points on 100% shooting in the opening quarter, including 4 of 4 shooting from deep.
“It’s my senior year and my last regular-season game,” she said. “I wanted to go off in this game and make it memorable.”
That’s precisely what she did.
Ortegon’s red-hot start from the field was contagious, as it helped lift Valley View to a six-point lead at the end of the frame thanks to a 22-11 run to close the quarter. Ortegon finished the night with a game-high 20 points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Tigers weathered the storm in the second quarter after the Bravettes climbed out of their hole with a 6-0 run and the teams started trading blows. Ultimately, Garza, forwards JC Prado and Angela Garcia and guard Julie Ponce helped Valley View claw back ahead by five entering the half.
Garza, Ortegon’s lone senior teammate, added a game-high eight assists, four points and four steals to put her stamp on the game.
“We came out in the second half and I said, ‘It’s all on you guys. We can only guide and direct you. Fight for your community and fight for your seniors,’” Valley View head coach Arnold Martinez said to his seniors. “‘You have something special right in front of you here, you can’t ask for any other situation. Go get it done.’”
Despite a valiant comeback effort on behalf of the Bravettes, foul trouble and spotty shooting from deep prevented them from retaking the lead in the second half. As a team, Donna converted just 3 of 21 shoots from behind the arc.
Bravettes guard Ivette Valladares was sensational throughout the contest and kept her team in it until the final seconds. Valladares tallied a 19-point, 10-steal double-double, while Donna forwards Astrid Meza and Yzella Perez combined for 15 points and 14 rebounds down low.
From beginning to end, the game featured playoff-level intensity and the standing, raucous crowd gave it that kind of atmosphere too.
“I’m so honored to have this crowd supporting us and having our back and everything. It was amazing,” Ortegon said. “The vibe here was just so exciting. Everyone here was pumped and was like, ‘Score! Score! Score!’ Everything was awesome.”
“This is for the seniors. We started this journey four years ago. We never thought we’d have this type of crowd here ever again,” Martinez said. “You can see all the administration, superintendent and board members (here), and they’re excited that we’re back. We’re going to make some room now because there’s going to be a banner up there.”
With the win Valley View will advance to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, since the Tigers competed in Class 3A. It will be the school’s first trip to the Class 5A state playoffs in program history.
“We really made history. I’m sorry to say it, but nobody believed in us,” Ortegon said. “Nobody thought we could achieve this, and we did. We proved them wrong.”
Martinez, who’s in his fourth season at Valley View, praised Garza and Ortegon’s leadership since the beginning of their long journey back to the postseason.
“They’re the first ones that started with us three years ago,” he said. “They’re finishing with us and they got us into the playoffs. I’m very proud of them.”
Valley View finished the regular season tied for second in 32-5A with Mercedes. The coaching staffs of both schools will confer this morning to determine whether they will play a tiebreaker game or flip a coin for seeding purposes.