FALFURRIAS — For three quarters in Port Isabel’s Class 4A bi-district game against Robstown, the teams stayed within two possessions of each other on the scoreboard.
Both teams played fast and used a heavy defensive presence to force turnovers and miscues, which were converted into points by pushing the ball downcourt on long passes. After a multitude of ties and lead changes, the Tarpons created some separation during the final two minutes of the third quarter.
They used that momentum to dominate the final eight minutes of play and capture a 73-55 win to advance to the area round, where they’ll face the San Antonio Young Men’s Leadership Academy Lions.
“It’s a relief. We told these kids, ‘Let’s close this thing out.’ And they did,” Tarpons coach Mike Hazelton said. “We knew it was going to be difficult. It’s never easy in the playoffs. The final score didn’t indicate what kind of game it really was. It seemed like it was tight until about three minutes left. Credit Robstown, because they had some speed and quickness and they could match us, where these kids hadn’t had anybody matching it before.”
Port Isabel jumped on top early in the first and maintained the lead through the quarter. Cole Pinkerton and Will Camacho (12 points) both knocked down 3-pointers to ignite the Tarpons and their loud and rowdy crowd. Pinkerton and Kaiden Martinez were solid down low as they battled for rebounds, and Camacho and Gilbert Medina forced Robstown turnovers with their nagging defense.
The Tarpons had an 18-14 lead after one quarter, but Robstown picked up its energy to match that of Port Isabel in the second. Elias Borjas used his size in the paint to control the boards, and Robstown came roaring back as Lupe Reyna and Jesse Resendez showed their speed and ball control to get to the bucket efficiently. Reyna scored 16 points during the first half, including a 3-pointer that gave Robstown its largest lead at 24-20.
Port Isabel took the lead back as Pinkerton and Josue Navarro started picked up the physicality in the paint. Daniel Zamarron (14 points) and Medina used their defense to create scoring opportunities, and relentlessly charged the rim to help the Tarpons hold a 31-28 lead at halftime.
“We kept looking at the score early and thinking, ‘We’re not really playing well and we’re still in it, so we should be OK,’” Hazelton said. “I think we adjusted what we were doing more. We had a little adversity, and I think it was just they went through so much and they’ve had to overcome different things all year, and this was just another step in that direction.”
The majority of the third quarter was an evenly matched, physical battle. Both defenses shined and kept the scoring to a minimum for the first half of the frame. Port Isabel and Robstown were deadlocked at 36 until the Tarpons opened things up during the final three minutes of the quarter.
Medina, Camacho and Zamarron aggressively drove to the basket for layups and earned plenty of trips to the charity stripe, resulting in a 47-41 advantage heading to the fourth quarter. Port Isabel continued to push the tempo of the game in the fourth, and its speed and athleticism gave it the edge.
The Tarpons controlled time of possession as their lockdown defense forced a number of turnovers and miscues by Robstown. Port Isabel held Robstown’s top scorer, Reyna, to just two points during the second half. Camacho, Medina, Pinkerton, Zamarron and Luis Martinez were a dominant group on the court, winning all phases of the game to let the Tarpons open up the lead. Medina was relentless getting to the hoop, scoring 16 points during the second half and 21 overall to lead Port Isabel to the area round.
“It feels really great honestly. This is what we’ve been waking up and practicing for every day,” Medina said. “We’ve been preparing for these guys, hard practices … to win and get us to Round 2. We run all the time, conditioning showed up. We just didn’t get tired. I think we all did good as a team.”