LAREDO — The PSJA North Raiders and Laredo United Longhorns did not know when, where or if they would be able to take the floor for their area-round state playoff tilt.
After record-low temperatures, widespread power outages and a slew of neutral-site venues that reneged on hosting the game due to a lack of electricity, COVID-19-related concerns or a combination of both, North and United finally made it onto the court for their Class 6A clash Wednesday evening.
United jumped on PSJA North from the opening tip and used their depth to dig the Raiders into an early double-digit hole which they were unable to overcome, sealing a 70-55 victory for the Longhorns at Laredo United High School.
“They were just a lot faster than us,” PSJA North head coach Randy Bocanegra said. “We just couldn’t handle the pressure they put on us (defensively), so hats off to them. … We had our chances and cut their lead down to 12 and then 10, but we just couldn’t get past that. They did a good job defending our screen and roll and we couldn’t get to our spots and get comfortable.
“At first we thought one extra day of preparation would help us, but it just got to the point where we weren’t totally prepared to play,” he added. “It hurts to lose, but we did as much as we could to try to win. This is just one of those moments where you learn.”
The Longhorns seized the momentum early and never gave it back.
United blitzed North from the jump with aggressive full-court pressure that opened up many fast break scoring opportunities during the first quarter, fueling a 16-2 run to start the contest.
Guards Elisa Perlita and Evelyn Quiroz led the way for the Longhorns with 16 points apiece, as the team tallied 10 steals on the night with a vast majority occurring during the first quarter.
“We were a little shell-shocked. We just didn’t convert early when we had our opportunities and they did,” Bocanegra said. “They beat us down the court in transition and they did a great job.”
The Raiders, however, shifted gears at the beginning of the second quarter ignited by their play in the paint.
Sophomore forward Emma Lucio and junior center Trinity Bane’s physicality down low prevented United from being able to attack and drive to the basket, trimming the deficit to as low as 10 several times.
That ultimately forced the Longhorns to unload a barrage of 3-pointers and get to the free-throw line which helped sustain their lead. United shot 32% from the floor, but converted on 19 of 22 free-throw attempts and racked up a 9-for-26 clip from deep.
PSJA North, by comparison, sunk one of seven 3-point attempts and converted just 16 of 30 shots from the free-throw line.
The biggest difference down the stretch, however, was United’s team depth. All 13 Longhorns players that checked into the game scored and the team routinely turned to five-player platoon substitutions that allowed United to maintain its defensive pressure all night.
“All credit to them for being as prepared as they were,” Bocanegra said. “This is a lesson for our young girls that that’s the type of game we need against that level competitor if we come back.”
Lucio and Bane both finished with double-doubles to lead the Raiders in scoring. Lucio tallied a game-high 20 points on 50% shooting and a team-high 15 rebounds, while Bane recorded 19 points, 12 rebounds and a game-high five blocks.
PSJA North’s season comes to an end and the team finishes with an 18-4 overall record after making it back to the area round of the playoffs for the second time in the last three years during a condensed season with numerous obstacles.
“We lost a few returners who opted out at the beginning of the season (citing COVID concerns), but we adjusted with the girls we had and we were quarantined twice,” Bocanegra said. “We did as much as we could with the time we had and we’re pretty blessed and fortunate to have come this deep and this far without being shut down.”
Laredo United improves to 21-3 on the season and advances to the Class 6A regional quarterfinals, where the Longhorns will await the winner of the San Antonio Stevens-Weslaco High area-round game, which is tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday at Laredo Martin High School.