Vikings lose to Hornets in close area contest

The Brownsville Pace Vikings saw their stellar season come to an end Thursday in Falfurrias, losing to the Corpus Christi Flour Bluff Hornets in a competitive Class 5A area-round playoff game.

Flour Bluff’s size helped the Hornets control the rebounding, which ultimately led to them opening up a lead in the fourth quarter to secure a 63-57 victory and advance to Round 3. Despite a frustrating night when the shots didn’t fall with their usual efficiency, Pace leaned on its defense and battled hard from tipoff to the final buzzer.

“You’re always judged on wins and losses, but tonight I’m going to judge my boys on their effort, and they gave a championship effort,” Pace coach Jose Luis Ramirez said. “I don’t think we got outplayed, I think we just got outscored. Hat’s off to Flour Bluff, they’re tough and they played better than we did tonight.”

Cristian Guajardo played an outstanding game to lead Pace with 31 points. He knocked down his first of five 3-pointers for the first points of the game. After both teams swapped some misses, Flour Bluff went on an 8-0 run as Andrew Jones and Henry Ibarra played well in the paint. Dax Delgado and Guajardo both hit 3s to close the gap, but the Hornets held a 14-10 advantage after the first quarter.

Flour Bluff had the stronger start down low, but Pace’s Dom Morales and Benny Villarreal adjusted to the Hornets’ height and competed well defensively and on the boards in the second. A strong drive from Alex Agado and aggressive play in the paint from Villarreal helped the Vikings jump back on top midway through the quarter.

Both teams flexed their outside shooting in a high-scoring second quarter. Pace built up a 25-20 lead, its largest of the first half, as Agado and Guajardo hit from behind the arc. The Hornets responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from Damien Amador and Ibarra to regain a one-point lead, but another Guajardo 3-pointer gave Pace a 30-28 edge at halftime.

The third quarter was arguably the most competitive of the night. It was a back-and-forth affair as the teams swapped defensive stops and the game’s physicality increased. Abraham Rincon’s suffocating defense and relentless effort was a big boost for the Vikings, and a 12-point quarter from Guajardo energized the team. After hitting his fifth 3-pointer to put Pace up 46-42, Guajardo flexed and let out a shout that got the crowd on its feet and fired up his team.

“Cristian’s just a phenomenal player. He can start on any team, and I’ve been lucky to have him,” Ramirez said. “He hates losing more than he loves winning, and tomorrow he’ll be the first one in the gym trying to get shots in. He’s the hardest-working kid, he strives for greatness every single day.”

Flour Bluff’s Alec Roberson hit a buzzer-beating corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 47 heading to the final quarter. Roberson, Amador and Pete Herrick attacked the basket and came up big for the Hornets during the second half, and especially in the fourth quarter to pound out the win.

Flour Bluff outrebounded Pace throughout the night, and the extra scoring changes the Hornets got that the Vikings didn’t proved to be a factor in the long run. Pace was plagued with shooting woes, and when layups fell off the rim and mid- or deep-range shots didn’t fall, Flour Bluff snagged the rebounds, which Ramirez said “was the difference in the ballgame.”

Rincon, Guajardo and Tyler Rudder continued to put pressure on the Hornets with their defense in the fourth. But Pace’s usually deep arsenal of shooters had an off night, and missing that firepower kept the Vikings from being able to grind out the comeback.

“We were hoping our speed and shooting would make the difference, but we left a few out there that we wish we had back,” Ramirez said. “You can’t ever trust your offense, you have to trust your defense, and I think they did the best they could on defense. If we hit a couple more, we would’ve taken this game.”