CORPUS CHRISTI — It was a little too late for Harlingen High on Tuesday night.
In a Class 6A regional quarterfinal playoff game against Laredo Alexander, the Cardinals trailed by as many as 12 in the third quarter but rallied late behind senior Jeremy Vasquez, who scored a team high 28 points.
But for every right hook Harlingen threw, Alexander had a counter. That counter was Marco Pena, who netted a game high 42 points and was also 16 for 19 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. He proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs defeated the Cardinals 75-69.
Alexander will now meet Lake Travis in the Sweet 16 later this week. Harlingen, meanwhile, finished the season with a 29-11overall record.
“Tonight, the kids played tough and played Cardinal basketball,” said Cardinals coach Greg Yates. “The third quarter was rough, but in the fourth quarter the kids had a never-die attitude. We had kids come off the bench and do well from offense and defense. They (Alexander) were a little better than us tonight. He (Pena) is a special talent and we tried to throw different things at him, but he’s a savvy kid.”
Harlingen took the floor Tuesday without junior point guard Michael Arellano, who suffered a season-ending injury in last week’s area-round win over McAllen Memorial.
Still, it was the third quarter that put Harlingen in a bind. Alexander ran the floor and hit shot after shot, and scored 21 points to open up a 51-34 lead going into the final period.
In the third, Harlingen couldn’t find its grove and scored only 12 points.
“Our kids kept fighting, but the third quarter was rough for us,” said Yates. “We came out and turned the ball over early and that hurt us. In the fourth quarter we were able to hit some 3s and get back into it, and we got to the line and hit some free throws. But Pena kept making his free throws and hit his layups, and that made the difference. Our kids did an outstanding job all year long and I’m proud.”
Vasquez, who wrapped up his Cardinal career, kept Harlingen in the game late with a strong 20-point fourth quarter.
The Cards managed to trim the lead to single digits late, but Pena’s free throws helped seal the win for Alexander.
“Coach Yates is proud of us from not making the playoffs last year to making it to the third round this year,” Vasquez said. “The past four years went by fast and I never took it for granted. I want to thank God for putting everything in place for me.
“The coaches took me under their wings and taught me how to play the game. This season was amazing and was a total team effort. We worked hard from when the season ended last year until now and I’m proud to have been a part of this team.”