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20111202_VMHS-Girls-Basketball-018Now that all the preliminaries are out of the way, girls high school basketball has kicked into high gear as district play commences. Last Tuesday, in their first district game, the Mission Veterans Lady Patriots started strong with an impressive 29-50 win over Brownsville Veterans.

For Head Coach Rafael Cantu, this first win is just the latest in a season that has him fired up.

“I’m excited about this season and this team,” said Cantu. “We have a large returning group and that experience has helped us in a few games. We’re winning games at the end and holding leads. We’re making plays at the end of games that we need to make.”

Against the Brownsville Veterans Chargers, Cantu’s team certainly seemed the more comfortable team on the floor.

The first quarter was a close one as both teams struggled to find their shooting rhythm. The Chargers’ speedy point guard Cassie Garza proved problematic for the Patriots early on as she scored the first two baskets for her team, both on fast break layups she casually banked in as the Patriots tried to chase her down.

20111202_VMHS-Girls-Basketball-035The Patriots were able to claw their way back into the game midway through the quarter as their two stars, senior Kassandra Lopez and junior Brianna Casas, both were fouled. Although neither made both their free throws the contact seemed to wake the two leaders. Even so, the Patriots found themselves down by one point at the end of the quarter.

According to Cantu, contact may be where his team needs the most work.

“We need to get a little more physical,” said Cantu. “We’re strong but we need to stay tough and do a better job rebounding offensively and defensively. Sometimes we miss some easy shots and we need to cut down on the turnovers and give ourselves opportunities to win.”

The Patriots sowed the seeds of opportunity in the second quarter. Lopez began the quarter with a steal and a breakaway bucket. Casas pitched in with a pretty three-pointer and the Chargers were on the ropes before they knew it. Although Brownsville’s Garza continued to scamper down the court for easy layups, she couldn’t quite match the scoring pace of Veterans’ two unanimous all-district picks from last year, Casas and Lopez. By the time Lopez hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the first half, the Lady Patriots had built a nine-point lead.

The fast breaks and the fast points are nothing new to Cantu. Neither is the play of his point guard, Lopez.

“We have a quick team,” said Cantu. “We’re going to push the ball this year as much as possible and get quick shots. Kassandra is a scorer, plain and simple. She can handle the ball, drives well and has a nose for the basket.”

20111202_VMHS-Girls-Basketball-008The Lady Chargers opened the third quarter with a defensive stop. After being fouled on two successive possessions, they brought themselves within six points of the Patriots. It would be as close as they would get.

The third quarter belonged to Veterans’ Katilyn Garza. Garza allowed the more nimble Lopez and Casas to roam the perimeter by doing the dirty work down low. In the third quarter alone Garza forced two steals, a block and wrestled the ball away from penetrating Brownsville players time and time again. Her defense began to frustrate the Lady Chargers as they seemed to tire as the game wore on.  After three quarters the Patriots lead was 17.

The fourth quarter was a runaway. The Chargers simply had no answer for the duo of Lopez and Casas who spent their offensive possessions swinging the ball back and forth to each other at the top of the key. One would drive, collapsing the defense, and the other would be left open to dart inside for an easy layup. It was a formula that was not to be disproven that night. Just before the final buzzer again, Lopez finished strong with a running jumper and two made free throws to put her team up by 21.

The Lady Patriots are officially on a roll after winning their previous game against Nikki Rowe and starting their district campaign with this rather indomitable performance. The Lady Patriots now stand at 6-3 overall and, more importantly, 1-0 in district play.

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