HIDALGO — Hanging from the rafters inside the Hidalgo High School gymnasium is a banner commemorating the Pirates’ 1991-92 boys basketball team.
That group reached the Region IV-3A regional tournament, led on the court by senior guard Gus Sanchez, who wore the No. 20 jersey.
Since then, Sanchez has grown into one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most-winningest coaches for the same high school he played for.
And 28 years after reaching the regional tournament as a player, the 2019-20 Hidalgo Pirates have accomplished the same goal with Sanchez as head coach, and his son Gus Sanchez as the senior star player, also wearing No. 20.
“You don’t want to lose because of your seniors, and when it’s your son, you don’t want it to end. You want to go as far as you can just to keep on building memories, and that’s what we’re trying to do, and so far it’s been great,” coach Sanchez said.
Each of his first three years on varsity, the younger Sanchez and his Pirates were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Now, the senior is in the fourth round of the playoffs — the first time Hidalgo has been back to the regional tournament since his cousin Frankie Sanchez led the Pirates during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
“It was tough going one and out my freshman through junior year. Now, being able to do this my senior year, it’s really amazing,” the younger Sanchez said. “I told you earlier I wanted to make it farther than my dad and all my cousins from Hidalgo history. I want to make it to the Elite 8, and now this opportunity presents itself my senior year — it’s been amazing.”
“It’s a special feeling, now knowing that you don’t have bragging rights at home anymore. And he’s not only reaching the Sweet 16, but can take it a step further,” coach Sanchez said. “One thing that we told the team this year is to build their own legacy. This year is their year. Build it as far as you can. And so far, they’ve been doing it.”
This year’s Pirates (27-10, 13-1) captured their third consecutive District 32-4A championship while gutting out victories in the playoffs.
In bi-district, the Pirates edged out West Oso for a 56-55 overtime win.
In the area round, Hidalgo beat Gonzales 50-47.
And Tuesday night, the Pirates punched their ticket to the fourth round with a 36-35 win over La Vernia.
Senior guard Angel Lopez doesn’t consider himself a scorer, but on two occasions this postseason with the game on the line, Lopez has stepped up to make a layup to put his team ahead. During an overtime district game against Rio Hondo earlier this year, Lopez told his team they would not go down.
“I told everyone like we’re not losing this game. We’re not losing, and that’s the mindset that everyone has. You know, we get to the fourth quarter and it’s like everyone puts another gear on, they go harder, and I feel like that’s why we’ve been closing out games,” Lopez said.
The Pirates battled a team with a size advantage in La Vernia, but coach Sanchez called an old friend for advice — current PSJA North head coach Jaime Gongora. Gongora was the head coach of Sanchez and the 1991-92 Pirates’ regional tournament-qualifying team.
“He gave me some pointers there and I thought that was big. I have to give credit to him. That’s one of the things I do have is I can talk to one of the best coaches in the Valley in Coach Gongora, and he can just pick up the phone and can give me some great pointers, and we really used that in our game plan to move on to the next level,” coach Sanchez said.
After the Pirates’ third-round win, the father-son combination found each other.
“Being able to get here to where my dad got, he’s really proud of us. After the game, he gave me a big hug and he told me, ‘We did it.’ But he wants me to go one more further, he wants me to beat him,” the younger Sanchez said.
In order to make that happen, the Pirates will have to go through the Boerne Greyhounds (27-9, 9-1) in the Region IV-4A regional semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“We knew coming in everybody was doubting us, but we knew we had this in us, and we still know there’s still a chance we can go further, and that’s what’s driving us right now,” Hidalgo center Kyle Perales said.