St. Joseph hoops teams set for Elite Eight matchups

Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas
·5 min read

Mar. 6—By CLAIRE CRUZ, Staff Writer

Brownsville St. Joseph has enjoyed a lot of athletic success during the 2020-21 school year, and the school's basketball teams have a chance to keep the good times rolling today.

Both the boys and girls squads advanced to the Elite Eight in the TAPPS 5A playoffs, and they'll play a doubleheader at Beeville Jones. The Lady Bloodhounds will face Boerne Geneva at 1 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. tipoff as the Bloodhounds battle Austin St. Michael's.

This isn't the first trip to the Elite Eight for the girls, but the Lady Bloodhounds do have their sights set on making history with a win to reach the first Final Four in program history.

"It's very special. I know there's teams that have been here, and this was one of our goals, but it's not the last one," Lady Bloodhounds coach Robert Moreno said. "We want to continue and make history for this school. We have a very good chance, and hopefully we can get it done."

Moreno said Boerne Geneva has some size on its squad, but overall he feels the teams are pretty similar. He said the Lady Eagles use a full-court press and play fast, like the Lady Bloodhounds. Moreno said the girls have had good, hard practices preparing for today's game, and he believes his team is ready to pick up a win.

"There's been a lot of energy our last two practices. They were intense practices, and we're hoping to continue all the way to (the game) and keep that intensity up," Moreno said. "We have to be very disciplined in what we do, take care of that basketball and use our aggressive defense — but keep it under control to stay out of foul trouble — and we should be all right."

The Lady Bloodhounds knew coming into the season that they had potential. With returners like Lucia Gonzalez and Maria del Pozo leading the way, SJA has lived up to expectations and then some. Freshman guard Regina Tovar has developed into a bigger role than Moreno initially expected, and he credited the newcomer for doing a good job controlling the game.

SJA has put in the work all season to make the program better than it was last year, and it has achieved that in Moreno's first year at the helm. Now the Lady Bloodhounds are eyeing history, and they'll take on anything in their way to get there.

"They stayed hungry, and I tried to keep them on their toes and tell them nothing's going to be given, you still have to continue to work," Moreno said. "They've been doing a very good job working and they believed we could get to where we're at right now, and they believe we can continue this run. That's my main thing, is having them believe they can do it."

The Bloodhounds cruised to a one-sided victory Tuesday, and SJA coach Sam Lucio said the boys will be riding high on that momentum when they take on Austin St. Michael's.

"They're playing super confident right now. They're not cocky or anything, they know we still have a tough game (today) against a very good opponent. But their confidence is high, which is good," Lucio said.

Lucio and the Bloodhounds have been watching film and know they'll have to battle a lot of size against the Crusaders. Lucio said St. Michael's has three key starters that are 6-foot-9, 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5. The Bloodhounds prepared for size by playing non-district opponents like Harlingen High, Harlingen South and Edinburg North, so Lucio feels SJA will be able to compete just fine if it focuses on its own strengths.

"They have a big frontcourt and some good guards that are athletic," Lucio said. "We just want to use our advantage with our speed, our shooting, and play the game that got us here. We're going to try to keep them off the boards as much as possible and just play our game. They're confident we can play with them, and we have all the belief that we can beat these guys if we play our game."

The last time SJA reached the Elite Eight was in 2017, when they were competing at the 6A level. There aren't as many schools in 6A, so the playoffs only started with 16 teams. Lucio said the journey to this Elite Eight has been harder, and it has made the Bloodhounds stronger. The bond SJA has on and off the court has made the team special, and the Bloodhounds think the way they play together on the court because of it will carry them to the next round.

"The thing that makes this team special is the way they treat each other. They're really good friends on and off the court, and that chemistry is really good," Lucio said. "We have really good players. They have a lot of skill and a lot of heart, and they play tough. I give them all the credit in the world, because it's been very difficult with COVID and then that winter storm. Adversity hits but they always bounce back and stay the course, stay confident and keep working hard."