HARLINGEN — Weslaco High head coach Griselda Fino downplayed the significance of Tuesday’s matchup against Harlingen High and told her team “it was just another game” prior to the highly anticipated contest.
Both teams entered the contest tied for first place in District 32-6A, but in the end it was the Lady Panthers who marched out the Cardinals gymnasium with an impactful 60-45 victory over the Lady Cardinals (8-2) and sole leader of the district title race.
“It was just another game for us,” said Fino after the contest. “What’s funny is that when we first got off the bus we’re so use to go straight to the locker room but I told the girls ‘we need to go through the gym because I wanted to the girls to come in and see’ because I knew coming into this game that there was going to be a lot of hoopla involved.
“It was just another game for us and we need to come inhere and take care of business and I think my girls did a very good job responding they way the did and came out on fire and with absolutely no hesitation and it was just a matter of winning the ball game for us.”
The Lady Panthers (9-1) did indeed come out on fire, energizing the away crowd with a 12-2 run to start the game. Emily Saenz, Bree Pena and Illiyah Cantu scored a combined 18 points to lead Weslaco to an early 21-10 first quarter lead.
But as Harlingen defense clamped down on Saenz and Pena in the second, Cantu rose to the challenge and scored nine points in the period leading the Lady Panthers to an impressive 40-25 halftime lead.
“Coming into tonight’s game I did tell my girls ‘they are going to try and stop Bree and they are going to try and stop Emily and they are going to try and get them in foul trouble and that’s fine because at the end of the day they’re going to try and beat five Lady Panthers on the floor’,” said Fino. “So the other three players that are going to be on there with them are going to have to step up big and that is exactly what Illiyah did.
“And she is a big factor and in a game like this I know what I have she might not always show it but I know what I have and hopefully after tonight she can play like this all the time.”
Cantu fouled out in the second half but not before finishing the night with 22 points. Teammate Bree Pena added 17 points and Saenz finished with 15 points.
For the Lady Cardinals it was their second disappointing end at the hands of their bitter district rivals. With Weslaco leading at times by as much as 19, Harlingen gained some momentum mid way through the fourth period and cut the deficit to 11 as Ariel Leal and JuliannGarza help the Lady Cardinals to an 8-0 run. However, Weslaco’s lead was too much to overcome as the Lady Panthers quickly went on a run of their own to finish the game.
Leal finished the game with 14 points, while JulieannGarza and Alyssa Cervantes each added 12 points a piece.
Up next, the Lady Cardinals will take on BrownsvilleRivera on Friday. Meanwhile Weslaco takes on Weslaco East.