EDINBURG — In the postseason, nothing comes easy.
The No. 4-seed from District 32-6A San Benito Greyhounds and District 31-6A champion Edinburg Vela learned that Monday, as the Greyhounds gave the SaberCats all they could handle.
The SaberCats, however, leaned on their playoff experience down the stretch to escape with a 68-61 victory in a Region IV-6A bi-district playoff matchup at Edinburg Vela High School.
Edinburg Vela moves onto the area round where it will face the winner of tonight’s PSJA North-Laredo Nixon matchup.
“That’s a well-coached team over there. They came prepared and they took it to us, so credit to them, they played really well today,” Edinburg Vela head coach Lucio Rodriguez said. “We started off a little shaky, but we’re lucky our defense turned into offense there early in the fourth quarter and gave us some separation, and we were able to manage the game from there.”
The SaberCats built a double-digit lead during the second and third quarters, but San Benito’s Jeremy Sauceda and the Greyhounds put together a run of their own.
Sauceda, a point guard, had no problem pulling up from longer than long range and weaving his way through the SaberCats defense for big buckets during the third, which cut Vela’s lead to 50-46 entering the final quarter.
Edinburg Vela responded immediately to begin the fourth period as a senior with plenty of experience and a sophomore seeing his first live playoff action stepped up for the SaberCats.
Tony Requeña was on varsity as a freshman and part of Vela’s fourth-round playoff run last year. Monday, the sophomore was right in the middle of the action, tasked with checking San Benito’s point guard one-on-one at the top of the key.
On back-to-back possessions, Requeña came away with steals. On the first, he looked up and found senior Bobby Espericueta streaking down court for a fastbreak basket. The second time around, he took it himself, fighting through contact to convert a layup with the foul.
“I just felt the energy coming up and I just wanted to build that lead so we could finish the game off strong and go to the second round,” he said.
“We’ve been waiting for that kind of Tony all season long and at the right time, he stepped up. I couldn’t be any more proud of him,” Rodriguez said about the sophomore guard.
Requeña and Espericueta were responsible for the SaberCats’ 6-0 run to open the fourth, which put Edinburg Vela comfortably out in front, playing for possession for the rest of the game.
“It was just defense turning into offense and that was the main part of getting rebounds, getting up the floor and getting easy baskets. I thought it was an ugly win, but it’s a win and we’ll take it and we’ll learn from it,” Espericueta said.
It was a team effort for the SaberCats with nine players scoring. Bobby Espericueta and Kaleb Coronado combined for 23. Requeña added 6. And senior Austin Garza scored a team-high 12 points off the bench for the SaberCats.
“That’s what we bank on: our role players stepping in and helping us get that win and today we had several of those and that’s what makes us a well-balanced team,” he said.
Sauceda finished with a game-high 20 points for San Benito, while Joseph Sanchez added 10 for the Greyhounds.
While the first-round playoff loss may have stung, the Greyhounds were able to snap a six-year postseason drought with their bi-district berth, fighting valiantly until the final buzzer against Vela.
“The effort was off the charts. Our guys had a few tough losses in the last couple games, and I just wanted these guys to come out and battle and make sure we leave it all on the court, and they did that,” San Benito head coach Jared Bligh said. “They gave themselves a chance at the end; we were in it the whole game. I’m really proud of these guys. They worked their tails off.”
Next up for the SaberCats (21-16, 11-1) is a matchup against the winner between PSJA North and Laredo Nixon.