Sharyland Pioneer rolls into regional tourney with win over C.C. Veterans

LA FERIA — Derek Luna netted 25 points as Sharyland Pioneer punched its ticket to the Region IV-5A regional tournament following a 71-58 victory over Corpus Christi Veterans on Tuesday in a Class 5A regional quarterfinal.

With its 17th straight win, Pioneer (28-7) will be playing in the regional tourney for the first time in program history. The Diamondbacks will face San Antonio Harlan.

Miguelangel Gonzalez poured in 14 points and Lavar Lindo, who got into early foul trouble, added nine. Breon Thompson (15 points) and Tobi Agiriga (11 points) led the Eagles in scoring.

Luna drained four 3-point shots to keep Pioneer in the game. Gonzalez added three more.

“It feels real good,” Luna said. “I wasn’t trying to force the three but if it was open, I was going to shoot it.”

Veterans, which finished tied for second in District 30-5A, closes out the season end with a 30-10 record.

“These players are amazing,” Pioneer head coach Rene Gonzalez said. “They know exactly what to do and they are so awesome to work with.”

The Eagles pressed much of the game but the Diamondbacks, despite committing 17 turnovers, never seemed to lose their composure.

“They know what to do,” said Gonzalez, who is in his sixth year coaching Pioneer. “Break the press. Experience, experience, experience. They’ve been there before. (I) let them play Pioneer basketball. It’s a thing of beauty what they did.”

Luna played on a state champion at Duncanville last year before moving to the Mission area. He compared the experience last year with the history being made at Pioneer this year.

“I just need everyone to believe that we can do it,” Luna said. “It was a fun ride last year. I learned a lot from it. Now I’m just trying to teach because what I’ve been through last year, I know what it takes to get to that level.”

Coach Gonzalez praised Luna as a hard worker who has contributed to the D-backs’ success.

“This guy’s legit,” he said. “This boy’s legit right here man. (He’s) incredible. He’s a blessing in disguise to our program. Great kid. This boy can ball. Not only can he ball, but he’s a great leader. He jelled with my players. We’re family.”

Pioneer led after one quarter, 22-16, but Lindo sat out the second frame with three fouls. The Eagles outscored the D-backs by five in the second to cut Pioneer’s lead to 33-32 at halftime.

The Eagles gained control, taking a 39-35 lead on Agiriga’s close shot with 4:31 to play in the third. Just as Veterans seemed to be taking control, the D-backs produced a big run.

They regained the lead for good on a drive by Ethan Lee (45-43) with 1:50 to go in the third. What would prove to be a 19-6 run was capped by Luke Padilla’s jumper off a feed from Luna for a 54-45 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

Lindo made his presence felt in the second half collecting rebounds and defending Thompson, the Eagles’ top scorer. The D-backs out rebounded the Eagles 37-31.

Corpus Christi did not generate a run in the fourth and the D-backs steadily built a bigger lead, eventually up by 16 before settling into a 13-point win.

Pioneer relied heavily on a 2-3 zone defense against the taller, quicker Eagles. During the first half, the Eagles shot 20 free throws but shot only four in the second half.

“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Coach Gonzalez said. “Doing little things. Box out. Close out. Take charge and stuff like that.”

The game featured six ties and three lead changes.