ZAPATA — While the buzzer screeched overhead, the Edinburg High Bobcats paced back onto the court to start the fourth quarter. Despite trailing by double digits, the Bobcats had gotten hot at the end of the third and looked to carry over that positive momentum.
Instead, Laredo United South buried its first shot attempt of the frame, a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. Next, the Panthers swiped the ball away in transition and fired the ball into the corner for another look from deep.
A nothing-but-net, 3-point dagger.
The shot bolstered Laredo United South’s fourth quarter lead to 16, its biggest of the game, as the Panthers were able to fend off and take out Edinburg High 56-42 behind their aggressive full-court defense in their Class 6A Regional Quarterfinal clash Tuesday at Zapata High School.
“We always stress on being balanced. Success revolves around three things: being physically, mentally and emotionally balanced. Tonight, we just didn’t have that,” Edinburg High head coach John David Salinas said. “Sometimes you can still win games when you don’t play well, but United South in all phases played with a lot of confidence. They outhustled, they made plays, they shot the ball well, played great defense and they didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect them to do. They just beat us in those three phases and if one of those suffers, the stool falls. There’s nothing that you can stand on that’s going to keep you upright.”
The Bobcats actually lurched out ahead in the early going, seizing an early four-point edge. Edinburg (36-4, 11-1) held Laredo United South (20-12, 10-2) scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the contest before the Panthers were able to break the seal.
United South sophomore guard Dezerae De La Garza got her team going late in the first with some potent midrange shooting, but the Panthers struggled to stay out of foul trouble.
The Bobcats entered the bonus with 40 seconds left in the opening quarter and took advantage, attacking the Panthers and repeatedly getting to the free-throw line. But, between trips to the charity stripe and turnovers, Edinburg was rarely able to set up offensively and settle into the flow of the game.
“I thought their press affected us and we had opportunities to get to the free-throw line. The officials called a great game, a very fair game,” Salinas said. “We just couldn’t get into our offense and we turned the ball over a whole lot. We just didn’t do what it takes to win ballgames.”
The Bobcats were doing an excellent job defending the perimeter against a prolific 3-point shooting team in United South. Edinburg limited the Panthers to just 6-of-27 shooting from deep for the game, but after De La Garza’s scoring burst, United South was able to capitalize on Edinburg’s shifting defense.
“We were in a 2-3 zone and kind of leaned on that basic zone defense for the last couple of games and it was working well. We were getting out on their shooters, but then they started getting hot, so we had to kind of change that a little bit,” Salinas said. “Coach Guardiola did a really good job thinning us out and making us change our defense to a man. All one through five on their roster can shoot the 3.”
The Bobcats ended up sinking 21 of 29 free throws on the night, but made just 1 of 10 3-pointers and shot 27% inside the arc. Senior forward Leslie Martinez and junior guard Daysha Tijerina led the team in scoring with 14 points each, while junior guard Julissah Santa Maria added seven.
Senior center Brianna Sanchez was a force down low, tallying 14 rebounds, three blocks and two points, but the Bobcats ran into problems trying to feed her the ball in the low post.
“We tried to get the ball in play to her a little bit more, but United South did such a great job in not letting us get into an offense,” Salinas said. “It’s kind of hard when you’re playing against a team that’s putting a lot of pressure on the frontcourt and we can’t get into sync on the offensive side. We did have a lot of size and we tried to get it in, and they were turning the ball over still.”
The loss ends what was a historically good season for Edinburg High.
The Bobcats advanced to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and won at least 30 games for the third year in a row. Edinburg High was ranked as one of the Top 25 6A teams in the state almost all season by the Texas Girls Coaches Association and all four teams that bested them were also ranked and advanced to at least the area round of the playoffs.
The Bobcats ended with a 36-4 overall record, their best mark in more than a decade.
“We’ve had a wonderful season at 36-4. I told the girls that loss against Weslaco really opened it up for us and we were able to bounce back and learn a lot about each other and finish district on a good note and get past two rounds of the playoffs,” Salinas said. “Those are all good notes, but at the end of the day it hurts us. It hurts to lose a game, especially this way. We’ve got four girls graduating and we’ve got eight returning. Our JV (team) was district champs and we’ve got a really good group of eighth-graders coming up. We’re going to work hard, and we’re going to try and get ready for next season.”