Sharyland Pioneer High School Athletics


Eight Up, Eight Down


Progress Times | 1/6/2024

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Breeden

Lady Diamondbacks open up district 8-0

Progress Times photo by Jason Breeden
The Sharyland Pioneer Lady Diamondbacks basketball team won their eighth consecutive district game by defeating the Robert Vela Lady Sabercats 55-43 Tuesday afternoon in Edinburg. The Lady Diamondbacks now have sole possession of first place, with a perfect 8-0 record in the carnivorous 31-5A girls’ district. After missing the playoffs a year ago, the Lady Diamondbacks lead last year’s top 4 teams: Edinburg Vela, McAllen Rowe, McAllen Memorial, and rival Sharyland High School. On their 8-game win streak, the Lady Diamondbacks have outscored their opponents by 205 points, winning their ballgames by an average margin of 26 points per game. With 10 district games remaining, the Lady Diamondbacks aren’t relenting; they know the job isn’t finished.
When asked what powered her team’s victory over the top-ranked Lady Sabercats, head coach Nicole Villarreal-Sandoval said, “A lot of teamwork, and girls knowing, accepting, and playing their roles. Since the break, we’ve had some really great, focused practices, so that’s what really helped. It’s a blessing, but there’s still a lot of work to go. This district is a tough district to begin with, so we have to be ready every day.”
Earlier this year, the Lady Diamondbacks lost a four-point overtime game to the 21-4, now second place, Lady Sabercats. Tuesday afternoon’s matchup was expected to be a similarly close game. But the Lady Diamondbacks defied expectations, just like they’ve been doing all season. They leapt to a 15-0 first-quarter lead behind suffocating defense from senior guards Destiny Benavidez and Valerie Vela and 13 points off three triples from freshman Ebonie Chatman, a certified bucket-getter. Chatman led the Lady Diamondbacks in scoring and finished with a game-high 25 points.

“We’ve been going really hard in practice. We’ve had the no-stopping mindset and just played as a team. We had recently played Robert Vela in a tournament, and we unfortunately lost. So we knew we had to step up if we wanted to come out and beat them. We know we’re on top right now, but we need to keep working to beat those teams in the second round,” Chatman said.
Despite being down double figures the entire first half, the Lady Sabercats’ attacking press and deliberate half-court sets forced the Lady Diamondbacks into bad passes and forced shots. As Janai Coleman and GG Betancourt’s shots started to fall, the Sabercats were able to chip away at the deficit slowly.

The Lady Diamondbacks felt the Lady Sabercats heating up but still managed to hold onto a 13-point halftime lead. At halftime, the Lady Diamondbacks challenged one another to re-focus on what they knew would be a more challenging second half.

“It wasn’t even me that said anything. It was said amongst themselves. And that is huge. That’s huge. Where I walk into that locker room and they’re already talking about what they needed to do and being locked in and things like that. It’s them. The leadership that we have is tremendous,” Coach Villarreal-Sandoval said.

Four threes from Betancourt and Coleman cut the Lady Diamondback lead down to single digits twice, but they counter-punched thanks to Chatman’s hot hand, tenacious defense from transfer forward Anika Fleischmann, and patient decision-making from do-it-all guard Kassandra Garcia.

Beating this team is such a big confidence boost. It’s not even the win. This game is so mental… if you get defeated, it just makes you wanna put in the work so much more. And when you see the outcome of what you’ve been putting in it’s so meaningful,” Fleischmann said.

After being outscored in the third quarter 15-12 and seeing their lead dwindled down to a shaky 10 points by Lady Sabercat momentum, the Lady Diamondbacks responded to the threat by playing lockdown defense and holding the Lady Sabercats to 6 measly fourth-quarter points. Tough baskets against a desperate, attacking Vela defense from Chatman, Vela, Benavidez, and sophomore Ivanna De Lizardi sealed the victory.

The Lady Diamondbacks will defend their 8-0 record at home against their sister school and prime rival Sharyland High today.

The Lady Rattlers finished two games ahead of the Lady Diamondbacks in district play last year en route to claiming District 31 5A’s fourth and final playoff spot with a 23-12 overall record. This year, the Lady Rattlers, led by head Coach Monica Meza’s senior forward Callie Keith and leading scorer Mariajose
blowouts to McAllen Rowe, PSJA North, and McAllen High. A win against the first-place Lady Diamondbacks could be the spark that ignites a turn-around.

With an 8-0 record on the line against their main rival and a second-round slate of district opponents feverishly awaiting rematches, the Lady Diamondbacks are eager for the awaiting challenges.

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