CORPUS CHRISTI — Edinburg High seniors A’nnika Saenz, Julissah Santa Maria and Daysha Tijerina are no strangers to playoff atmospheres.
The Bobcats senior trio had played in 10 postseason games before Monday’s area-round tilt against San Antonio Warren at Corpus Christi Veterans High School and their experience paid dividends.
Saenz dropped a game-high 27 points, while Santa Maria and Tijerina combined to score 22 more to lead the Edinburg High Bobcats to a 67-64 victory over the Warriors and back into the Class 6A regional quarterfinals.
“This was definitely playoff basketball,” Edinburg High head coach John David Salinas said. “We’re excited to represent not only our school and our city, but the Rio Grande Valley, as well. This is our third year in a row getting to the third round. I’m proud of the girls and my coaches because this year has been a crazy experience.”
“It feels great being able to execute like this in the second round and get back to the third round, especially with this being our senior year,” Tijerina said surrounded by her senior teammates. “This is what we’ve wanted since the beginning.”
The first quarter started frenetically with the Bobcats and Warriors trading buckets and the lead several times within the first few minutes.
Edinburg High managed to pull ahead before the end of the quarter, thanks largely to its proficiency from behind the 3-point line.
Led by Saenz and Tijerina, the Bobcats shot the lights out from deep to the tune of a 6-for-11 shooting night from the perimeter.
“It certainly helps to have girls who have been here for a long time that have been able to compete in these playoff games. It’s intense and the pressure is on,” Salinas said. “When the pressure is on, you let your captains, your seniors run it.”
“We were role players our sophomore year,” Saenz said. “We had to come in as leaders this year and show that we’ve grown as players and as kids.”
The other major difference-maker for Edinburg High throughout the first half was the freshman frontcourt combo of Janai Coleman and Emily Carranco.
Carranco excelled defensively on the low block in her first postseason start. Coleman, meanwhile, could not be stopped by the Warriors on either end of the floor.
The Bobcats’ freshman center dominated the interior by hauling in a game-high 14 rebounds and tallying 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Coleman, Carranco and fellow freshmen Kimora Fagan and Madison Martinez all helped Edinburg own a significant 33-20 edge in the rebounding battle that helped the team hold the lead throughout the second and third quarters.
“All those freshmen do a super job for us,” Salinas said. “Janai brings that toughness and we just try to remind her, ‘Nobody is stronger than you are.’”
San Antonio Warren made a comeback attempt once the fourth quarter got underway.
Led by junior guard Vivianna Solis, who finished with a team-high 20 points, the Warriors transitioned into a 2-2-1 full-court press defensively that effectively interrupted Edinburg’s offensive flow.
Warren twice tied the game during the first 5 minutes of the fourth quarter, but that’s when the Bobcats seniors delivered.
Saenz, Santa Maria and Tijerina kept aggressively slashing toward the rim in the game’s final few minutes to continually get Edinburg High back to the free-throw line and put Warren in costly foul trouble.
“Our goal was to not let them score and play solid defense,” Tijerina said. “We tried looking for outlet (passes), but if they weren’t there, we slowed it down. We were in control of the game most of the fourth quarter so we just tried to hold the lead.”
The Bobcats’ plan of attack worked and gave them 23 points from the charity stripe on 77% shooting as a team on free-throw attempts.
The Warriors, meanwhile, entered the bonus with less than 2 minutes to go in regulation but missed the front end of a one-and-one attempt which the Bobcats were able to recover.
Warren ultimately ended up sinking its late comeback bid at the free-throw line and with missed 3-pointers. San Antonio Warren converted on 14 of 20 team free-throw attempts with several misses falling during the final seconds while the team also knocked down only six of its 21 shots from deep.
Edinburg High’s senior trio nailed their last five free-throw attempts on the night to seal the win and lift the Bobcats back into the third round for the third consecutive season.
“I’ll put any of these girls at the free-throw line in those pressure situations any time,” Salinas said. “These girls want the ball in their hands.”
“We know we’re the better team,” Saenz said. “We’re going to go into that (next) game with that ‘Bad Boys for Life’ mentality. It’s been the mentality we’ve had since our freshman year. We’re not going to stop.”
The Edinburg High Bobcats, who improve to 21-4 with the victory, will face the Harlingen High Cardinals, who topped San Antonio Harlan on Monday, in the Class 6A regional quarterfinals at a time, date and location still to be determined.
It will be the second time in three years that the Bobcats and Cardinals have met in the third round of the 6A state playoffs. Edinburg beat Harlingen 54-34 in the 2019 regional quarterfinals.