McAllen Rowe's Yulissa Yebra (24) and Olivia Pawelek (55) attempt to rebound against Corpus Christi Veterans' Tatianna Mosley (22) during a Class 5A girls basketball area round playoff game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen. (Special to the Monitor photo by Julio Montalvo)

McALLEN — The McAllen Rowe Warriors were uncertain of when and where they would take the floor for their area round game in the Class 5A girls basketball state playoffs.

One week after tipping off postseason play in the Rio Grande Valley, the Warriors found themselves back on their home court in a battle against Corpus Christi Veterans, the ninth-ranked 5A team in the state according to the Texas Girls Coaches Association poll.

Despite finding offensive rhythm late, though, the Warriors had no answers when it came to slowing down the Eagles, as Corpus Christi Vets rolled to a 67-27 victory Thursday afternoon to advance to the regional quarterfinals for the fifth consecutive year and bounce Rowe from the state playoffs.

“We’ve got to be thankful that we were able to complete the season. There were a lot of unknowns coming into this year with the whole COVID-19 pandemic and the weather these past few days,” McAllen Rowe head coach Alex Robles said. “It’s just been a roller-coaster ride from being quarantined to just trying to navigate through this unexpected journey. It felt like we were in Jumanji a little bit.”

“It’s the first time a lot of these girls have been to an area game and facing a team that’s ranked in the state,” he added. “You’ve got to expect a team like Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial to play like they did tonight. … They’re a very well-coached team and they move the ball very well and are very unselfish. It shows how great of a team they are.”

The Eagles, who are coming off a run to the Sweet 16 last season, jumped out to a red-hot start and never let the Warriors back into the game.

Corpus Christi Vets presented multiple defensive fronts ranging from aggressive presses and traps to half-court zones and full-court man-to-man sets frequently alternating between varying looks.

That flustered and frustrated Rowe’s offense, which was held to 11 points throughout the first half, and created several fast-break opportunities offensively for the Eagles, who carried a 22-point advantage into the half.

“We worked on the press break all week long, but you can’t mimic how fast and how athletic Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial is,” Robles said. “They’re ranked in the state for a reason. That speed got to us a little bit. We tried to slow it down a little bit offensively, but I think we were just overwhelmed with how fast the game was today.”

McAllen Rowe’s Yulissa Yebra (24) on a drive against Corpus Christi Veterans’ Tatianna Mosley (22) during a Class 5A girls basketball game area round playoff game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen. (Special to the Monitor photo by Julio Montalvo)

The Warriors began to find their momentum offensively during the latter part of the third quarter and throughout the fourth, especially from deep.

Ziomara Jasso, Destiny Menchaca and Janessah Mendez helped Rowe shoot at a 43% clip from behind the 3-point arc during the second half. Jasso tallied a team-high nine points for the Warriors and Menchaca scored six.

“Once we broke the press and slowed it down a little offensively we played better and when we did do that, we were successful,” Robles said.

The Eagles, however, walled off the interior with their size and athleticism defensively, which allowed them to gain a big edge in the rebounding battle as well.

Corpus Christi Veterans rotated three near 6-foot forwards and centers — Tatiana Mosley, Gabriella Arismendi and Katelen Brooks — interchangeably which allowed them to control the interior and slow down the pace.

Arismendi finished with a game-high 16 points while Brooks and Mosley added 13 and eight, respectively.

The Eagles dissected Rowe’s defense in the halfcourt with surgical precision during the second half, shooting 38% from the floor and 50% from the perimeter to nearly double their lead and end the Warriors’ season.

The loss drops Rowe to 18-6 overall but cements the team as one of the RGV’s programs on the rise.

After a two-win campaign during Robles’ first season in 2018-19, the Warriors have won 40 games during the last two seasons after making the postseason for the first time in years last season and advancing to the area round for the first time since 2013 this year.

“This will be a great learning experience for our young ones who got a lot of time today. … It was a blessing to be on the court tonight,” Robles said. “I’m just super proud of the girls and the way they handled it.

“When we go through a year like this … it’s going to lead to future success building the program even more.”

The victory lifts No. 9 Corpus Christi Veterans to 25-2 overall and into the third round of the playoffs for the fifth time since the program’s first season in 2015.

The Eagles will face the McAllen Memorial Mustangs (17-8) in the Region IV-5A regional quarterfinals at a time and place still to be determined.


Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch