SAN ANTONIO — The No. 24-ranked Edinburg Vela SaberCats lost a state-ranked Region IV-5A final 66-53 against the No. 2 San Antonio Veterans Patriots on Saturday at Littleton Gym in San Antonio, bringing their season to an end.

Edinburg Vela finishes the 2023-24 campaign 36-6 overall. San Antonio Veterans (40-1) advances to the UIL Class 5A State Tournament next week in the Alamodome.

“It was a great game, great atmosphere and great environment,” Edinburg Vela head coach Lucio Rodriguez said. “I thought our guys played well. We had a slow second quarter that allowed them to extend that lead, but we never gave up. We kept fighting. We kept fighting until the end.”

Edinburg Vela jumped on top early as seniors EJ Avelar and Axel Garza scored all of the SaberCats’ first quarter points for an 11-8 lead after eight minutes.

Edinburg Vela’s EJ Avelar (10) battles for a rebound against San Antonio Veterans during the Region IV-5A final at Littleton Gym in San Antonio. (Delcia Lopez| [email protected])

The SaberCats would outscore the Patriots in three of the game’s four quarters, but a second-quarter scoring outburst from San Antonio Veterans put Edinburg Vela in a hole it couldn’t climb out of. The Patriots started the second with an 11-0 run and went on to win the quarter 27-6, sparked by 12 points from forward Jionte Jones. 

“I think they got a lot of transition points off our missed shots,” Rodriguez said about the second quarter. “We weren’t able to get back on defense, so they beat us down the court in transition.”

Edinburg Vela trailed 35-17 at the break, but there was no quit in the SaberCats.

They responded with an 8-0 run after the half to cut the lead to 35-25 with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter before San Antonio Veterans answered back. Garza scored 10 of his game-high 19 points during the third to help Vela close the gap entering the fourth.

“It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says. We’re going to keep playing, continue to compete, continue to fight for each other because we consider ourselves family,” Garza said.

The SaberCats cut the lead to eight with 2:25 remaining in the fourth quarter after a trio of triples from junior point guard JP Olivarez, baskets inside from Avelar, free throw shooting from sophomore guard Jordan Bustamante and heads up play from senior guard Diego Salinas. Garza also added five points during the fourth. 56-48 is as close as the SaberCats would get, however. 

Edinburg Vela senior Diego Salinas (5) comes off the court after their Region IV-5A final Saturday against San Antonio Veterans at Littleton Gym in San Antonio.
(Delcia Lopez| [email protected])

Avelar finished with 12 points, Olivarez had 11 with three made 3-pointers and Bustamante scored nine points off the Vela bench. Garza led the SaberCats with 19 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

The SaberCats’ seniors — Avelar, Garza, Aiden Lopez, Salinas and Sam Sepulveda — took the court together for the game’s final minute as the clock ticked away. They finished with three consecutive district championships and set a school record with 36 wins this season after leading Vela into the fifth round of the playoffs.

“It feels good that we made it this far. I hope we set the bar high for the Vela family and future Vela basketball teams,” Avelar said. “I hope they look up to us and I hope we were good role models to the juniors and sophomores we have on our team. We shouldn’t look at this as something that we did wrong, but something that we did right.”

Edinburg Vela seniors Axel Garza (23), Sam Sepulveda (2), Diego Salinas (5), Aiden Lopez (11) and EJ Avelar (10) stand together following the SaberCats’ Region IV-5A final against San Antonio Veterans on Saturday at Littleton Gym in San Antonio. Photo by Bryan Ramos.