By Larry Gage
Special to the PRESS
The Port Isabel Tarpons basketball team takes the No. 2 seed and an eight-game winning streak into this year’s playoffs. The Tarpons closed out the district season with wins over Zapata, 70-65 at home last Friday, and 51-48, at Progreso this past Monday, February 17.
It’s now on to the playoffs and the Tarpons’ first round, bi-district opponent will be Kingsville. The game is on for Edcouch-Elsa and will be played Monday night, February 24.
At home against Zapata last Friday the Tarpons got out in front early and stayed there. They took their first lead, 5-3, on Daniel Rinza’s bucket inside the six-minute mark of the first quarter, and led 22-13 at the start of the second quarter. It was 48-22, PI, at halftime.
Port Isabel led by 20 at the end of the third period, then had to withstand a determined rally by the Hawks. They scored 18 unanswered points, including a pair of threes, and the Tarpon lead was five halfway through the fourth quarter. The Hawks kept coming.
A three-pointer brought the visitors within three, 66-63, and with a minute to play the Tarpons were clinging to a 67-65 lead. A Hawk three-point attempt was off the mark and Cole Pinkerton grabbed a huge rebound with 11 seconds to go. Daniel Rinza made three of four free throws for the final points of the night, and that was a final, Port Isabel 70, Zapata 65.
The win avenged a 49-46 Tarpon loss at Zapata on January 21.
At Progreso on Monday neither team seemed to want very much to score. P.I. led 10-5 at the end of one and 23-17 at the break. Things heated up in the second half.
The Red Ants trailed by two, 34-32, at the end of the third quarter, and refused to go down easily.
Port Isabel led 49-41 after a free throw by Kaiden Martinez. Three three-pointers by Progreso in the final minute brought the Ants within two, 50-48, with 21 seconds left on the clock. Martinez made one more foul shot, a Progreso three-point attempt was off the mark, and that was a final, 51-48.
“They played us more aggressively … we just kept battling and we wanted it more than they did,” senior Tarpon Dennis Lozano said afterwards.
“It was their home court,” player Gilbert Medina, a sophomore, told the Press. “I’m ready (for playoffs), just got to practice more and learn the plays.”
“We didn’t expect it to be this close,” Martinez (14 points, 11 rebounds) said afterwards. “In the beginning, we were struggling with the rebounds (then) started grabbing them at the end.”
With the win at Progreso, the Tarpons got the season sweep against the Red Ants. Port Isabel won the first game, 63-41, back on January 24.
“It was crazy,” head Port Isabel boys basketball coach Mike Hazelton said after the Zapata game. “And, for some reason, when we play Zapata this is what seems to happen. We got leads on them and they don’t quit. They came back and made things difficult.”
Martinez led PI in scoring against Zapata with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Daniel Rinza put up 15 points, and had seven rebounds, four assists and a steal. Dennis Lozano had 13 points, two rebounds, three assists, three steals, and a pair of blocks. Cole Pinkerton scored 12 points, pulled down eight boards, handed out five assists, stole four balls, and blocked a shot. Jason Lowe totaled 10 points, five rebounds, and made two steals.
Martinez was also the Tarpons’ leading scorer against Progreso with 14 points, and also with 11 rebounds. He had four assists and made a steal. Pinkerton was the other Tarpon in double figures with 13 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and three assists.
This is a team with unfinished business to take care of this 2019-’20 season. The Port Isabel boys’ hoops program has made history the past two seasons with notable and unprecedented accomplishments. Two years ago, the Tarpons advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in program history. And last year, they set a school record with 26 wins in a season. Last week’s Progreso game gave PI its 26th win of this season.