BROWNSVILLE — With her team’s once comfortable lead dangerously shrinking late in the fourth quarter, Edcouch-Elsa’s Madisonn Treviño stepped to the free-throw line.
The senior guard had the tempo at a frenzied pace on both ends of the floor, forcing Brownsville Pace (15-19, 7-7) to dip into the bonus early in the quarter, and eventually the double bonus, just to slow her down.
She tuned out the screaming crowd behind her and coolly sank both of her free throws to give the Yellow Jackets a four-point edge with 26 seconds to play. It was just enough for them to hold on, as Edcouch-Elsa held off the Vikings relentless fourth-quarter rally to earn a 40-38 victory Saturday at Brownsville Pace High School.
“We want to have the ball in the right girl’s hands at the end of the game,” Edcouch-Elsa head coach Daniel Richardson said. “We were fortunate to have it in Maddie’s hands at the end and she came through.”
The win also gives the Yellow Jackets (22-15, 7-7) the fourth and final playoff seed out of District 32-5A and ends their three-year postseason drought. For the Vikings, meanwhile, the loss snaps a three-year streak of playoff appearances.
After tying for fourth with the Vikings in district play this year, Richardson and the Yellow Jackets were thankful for the opportunity to play their way into the playoffs this time around.
“We fell short to them the last three years. It’s been four-five, four-five, so to have a play-in game is really, really special,” he said. “We’ve dealt with more adversity than I guarantee a lot of programs have. Just to have this group together and accomplish this after a three-year drought, this is truly special.”
Edcouch-Elsa jumped out to an enormous early advantage thanks in large part to its defensive intensity and transition attack. The Yellow Jackets swarmed Pace’s ball handlers time and time again with full-court pressure and rarely allowed the Vikings offense to get set up.
Edcouch tallied 24 steals as a team and forced even more empty possessions for Pace. The Yellow Jackets led by as much as 20 in the opening half before carrying a 10-point edge into the break.
“Without that and us going up by 20 in the first half, I don’t think we would have been able to pull this out,” Richardson said. “The defensive pressure is something that we’ve been working on all year. It helped us out today.”
But the second half was a different story.
The Vikings came out of halftime ready to ramp up the pace and the game took on a new level of intensity. Pace slowly started to chip away at Edcouch-Elsa’s lead until a wild fourth quarter blew the game wide open.
The Vikings, who were held to 0% shooting from deep in the first, knocked down three huge 3-pointers and capitalized with their slight edge on the boards for second-chance points.
Pace ended the game on an 11-2 run, but ultimately Treviño’s timely free throws and an air-tight defense in the closing seconds helped the Yellow Jackets stave off the comeback attempt.
Treviño led the way offensively for Edcouch-Elsa with a game-high 17 points, 10 steals and five rebounds, while sophomore point guard Mia Flores and senior center Nyra Jimenez combined to add 16 points and 16 rebounds.
Sofia Espinosa led the Vikings with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Priscilla Garza and Sylvia Juarez recorded nine and eight points, respectively.
Richardson said Saturday’s play-in game and their chaotic stretch run through district play has prepared the Yellow Jackets for the intensity and pressure of the postseason.
“It feels like our entire second half of district play we couldn’t lose. If we lost, we were pretty much out,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been in this situation, so I feel like we’ve been in a lot of pressure situations in the second half. That’s going to definitely help us on Monday.”
Edcouch-Elsa will take on Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks, the District 31-5A champions, in its bi-district playoff match up at 7 p.m. Tuesday at PSJA North High School.