By LARRY GAGE
Special to the PRESS
The Port Isabel High Tarpons hoops squad took the bus to Brownsville Tuesday night and came home with a nice 66-63 win over the Chargers of Brownsville Frontier.
The game did not start off well for either team. The Tarpons scored just four points in the opening quarter, but trailed only 8-4.
“Both teams started out pretty sluggish – feeling each other out in the first quarter,” first-year head coach Anthony Velarde said Wednesday morning. “We just, for whatever reason, came out kinda’ slow, which you definitely don’t want to do.”
The scoring was quite balanced as four Tarpons scored in double figures and another just missed by a point. Fernie Lopez was the team’s leading scorer with 15 points and with four steals and two blocked shots as well. Isaiah Juarequi got 12 points, as did Jose Atkinson. Atkinson was the team’s leading rebounder with 10 boards and he made a pair of steals. Jeremy Martinez had 11 points and Juan Muñiz scored nine.
Port Isabel trailed 8-4 at the end of a quarter of play, led 24-23 at the half, and trailed 46-39 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“As the game wore on we were able to get into a rhythm and be able to pass and cut to the basket,” Coach Velarde reported. “They hit some big threes that kept them in the game. All in all it was a pretty good win and a pretty exciting game. It went right down to the wire.”
Sometimes a team is unable to take the win if it’s close down the stretch, but the Tarpons made the plays in the final minute when the game was on the line.
With the Tarpons clinging to a 60-57 lead with less than a minute to gothe Chargers tied it up on a three-point shot. “They came down and the guy shot one from Kalamazoo, nothing but net,” Velarde said. “It was a heck of shot – tied the game up.”
Big Michael Moore made two key plays in the second half that were instrumental in sealing the win. “He got a big block and knocked the ball out of bounds,” Coach Velarde said. Then, with seconds to play: “Our point guard almost got trapped and he threw it over the top to the middle of the court, and Michael had to jump up, made a good play, brought it down and secured position. There was only about 10 seconds left at that point.”
Free throws were part of the difference in the end. Port Isabel went to the line twice in the final 30 seconds, made three shots, and that was a final, 66-63.
“We didn’t panic at all,” Velarde said. “We had confidence in what we were doing. We’re learning how to win close games.”
“We kept moving the ball around, just trying to hit the open guy,” senior guard Edward Landa told the Press Wednesday. “The free throws helped us a lot.”
Jose Atkinson said, “Towards the end of the fourth quarter we just knew we had to run the clock down.”
The Tarpons came through last weekend’s Lyford Tournament with two wins against four losses. On Thursday they dropped a 71-57 decision to Rio Hondo and lost to La Feria, 56-30. On Friday they blew away San Perlita, 75-61 and lost by nine to Lyford, 53-44. On Saturday they beat La Villa, 41-27, and fell to Raymondville, 59-48.
The Tarpons are playing in the C.E. Vail Tournament in La Feria this weekend. Their first game was Thursday morning against McAllen. If they pulled off the upset against the Class 6A Bulldogs they would have advanced to the championship bracket to play the winner of the Mercedes/San Benito game. A loss to McAllen would have put Port Isabel in the consolation bracket to play the loser of the above game.
This is the 87th edition of one of the oldest hoops tournaments in the state. Thirty-two teams are on hand and a total of 70 games will be played in four gyms in La Feria and Mercedes by the time the championship game is played Saturday afternoon.
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