HARLINGEN — Harlingen South needed a jolt and received one from senior Joe Cortez.
Cortez returned to the lineup Tuesday night, scoring a game-high 23 points and helping the Hawks earn a 58-44 win over Brownsville Hanna.
“Having Joe back is huge,” Hawks coach Brian Molina said. “What he does is he extends the floor and he keeps defenses honest. Lately we have been seeing a lot of zone and I think that gives the shooters a chance to score, and it relieves a lot of the pressure from the other guys.”
With the win, South is now 3-5 in District 32-6A and is back in the hunt for a playoff spot with two games remaining. Up next is Los Fresnos before the regular-season finale against San Benito.
“I told the kids tonight, it is our backs against the wall,” Hawks coach Brian Molina said. “We have to come out fighting. One thing was we had a lot of road games during the first half, and now we have our final three games at home.”
Hanna, meanwhile, falls back to second place with a 6-2 record and will play Rivera on Friday. With the loss and a Los Fresnos win over San Benito, the Falcons are back in sole possession of first place in the district.
Two other Hawks finished in double figures. Grant Lowery netted 12 points, and Mark Becerra finished with 11.
During their first meeting, the defensive effort was there but the Hawks struggled to generate any offense. On Tuesday, the defense stepped up again, and this time the offense was hitting its shots.
Cortez drilled a pair of 3s that helped set the tone for the night during the first quarter. The Hawks hit four 3s in the opening period in taking a 15-11 lead and never looked back.
Hanna managed to cut the lead to seven at one point, but South had an answer for every shot thrown its way. Leading the offense for Hanna was junior Victor Campos, who scored a team-high 17 points.
“Tonight our defensive effort was still there,” Molina said. “Our shots started to fall, and now that we have some guys back we are able to do more things on defense. That helps our offense, and we are a completely different team. The kids capitalized and we did the little things right, we boxed out and made free throws, and those are the things you need to do when you play a team like Hanna who is in the district lead.”