After dominating for most of the game, Los Fresnos came within inches of dropping its Tournament of Champions opener on Thursday to Edinburg Vela when a desperate heave by Kaleb Coronado clanked off the front of the rim — allowing the Falcon fans in the crowd to exhale as Los Fresnos prevailed 56-54.
“Vela’s a good squad, well-coached,” Los Fresnos coach Marco Hinojosa said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. It’s usually a great game every time we play.”
The early battles, though, were won handily by the hosts, as the Falcons jumped out to an 18-5 first quarter lead thanks to nine points in the period from Ricky Altamirano (19 points total) and five from Luis Gonzalez (14 points total).
The Sabercats outscored Los Fresnos 10-9 in the second quarter, but Luis Gonzalez knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the key to send the Falcons into the locker room with a 27-15 halftime lead. Edinburg Vela went on to edge Los Fresnos 14-13 in the third quarter, and the visitors’ hot shooting propelled them to a 23-point fourth quarter. However, as Edinburg Vela coach Lucio Rodriguez lamented, his team’s 10 first quarter turnovers ultimately sealed the Sabercats’ fate.
At the third quarter buzzer, Altamirano nailed a long 2-pointer to put Los Fresnos up 41-30, and the Falcons seemed set to put the game away when he splashed a trey from the left elbow to score the first points of the fourth quarter.
Edinburg Vela still trailed by 11 when Coronado (14 points) hit a deep three-pointer with 6:14 to go. He drained another from downtown, and Aiden Avelar also hit a pair of threes, the first of which brought the Sabercats within three points.
“The game’s never out of reach when (Vela) can shoot the ball like the way they do,” Hinojosa said.
A pair of free throws by Vela’s Kaleb Coronado made it 46-41 in favor of Los Fresnos with 4:41 to play in the fourth quarter.
Coming out of a timeout, Elian Gonzalez answered with a three to give Los Fresnos an eight point cushion at 49-41 with 3:30 to go.
A three by Aiden Avelar brought the Sabercats within three at 51-48, but Los Fresnos quickly responded with a bucket to go back up five with 1:13 to go in the fourth quarter.
Troy Hernandez came right back for the Sabercats and was fouled on a layup with 11.3 seconds to go to bring Edinburg Vela within two at 55-53, and he sank the free throw to shrink Los Fresnos’ lead to one at 55-54.
Freshman Gerry Martinez (six points) had two chances to put the game away at the foul line, but twice missed on one-and-one free throw attempts to give the Sabercats a chance to pull even or win the game.
“We had our run, (Vela) got their run,” Hinojosa said. “At the end of the day, Vela had the ball, and we pride ourselves on defending. I told our guys, ‘alright, this is what we talked about, we’re a good defensive team and it’s time to get a stop.’ And we came up with the stops.
“Only thing is, we couldn’t hit a free throw, and we said ‘OK, this is what we do, let’s get another stop.’ And we got every stop we needed to get.”
Elian Gonzalez (eight points) clinched the victory when he stole the inbounds pass at midcourt and was fouled, and made one of two free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining before Coronado’s last second attempt fell short.
Second round action begins today, with Edinburg Vela scheduled to play San Antonio Reagan and host Los Fresnos is set to face Round Rock High. Both games will tip off at 3 p.m.