With a young, but experienced nucleus and a host of talented newcomers, the Del Rio Rams basketball team has its sights set on making a return to the playoffs after just missing out last season.
The good news for head coach Joe Nieto is that the majority of his returners are underclassmen, meaning they should be back for one more big run next season. That group of returners includes junior guard Aiden Huerta, junior guard Frankie Padilla, junior forward Mauro Garza, and junior guard Jorge Flores.
Also returning are seniors Sebastian Sanchez (point guard/guard), Frankie Avendaño (forward) and Markie Cruz (wing/forward). Sanchez is the most decorated of the returners, earning an all-district honorable mention selection last season as a junior.
A host of new faces should also play big parts in the Rams success including junior guard Luis Arteaga, senior guard Jacob Villanueva, and junior forward Cesar Gavia.
Del Rio finished tied with Laredo United South for fourth place in the district standings, but lost on a buzzer-beating three-pointer in a play-in game between the two teams. Del Rio also lost several key players to graduation including Moises “Mo” Escajeda, the reigning District 29-6A co-Offensive Player of the Year; and all-district selections Adrian Zepeda, a first-teamer, and his twin brother Daniel Zepeda, a second-teamer.
Nieto said the goal of this year’s squad isn’t to replace those players who’ve moved on, but rather to build on the success they instilled.
“It would be difficult to try and replace those guys. Instead, we’re trying to fill the void they left with the strengths we have now. We’ve got a lot of good players who are willing to adapt. They’ve bought in since the end of last season and have been working hard all spring, summer and fall. They had a good start in our scrimmages and we’re going to build from there,” Nieto said.
The team’s schedule has them at home regularly until the end of November. After that, Del Rio’s varsity squad doesn’t play a home game again until they host Laredo Nixon Jan. 7 in the team’s second district game.
The Rams opened the season Friday with a tough 89-61 loss to the San Antonio Roosevelt Roughriders. They followed that with a 69-61 road loss to Eagle Pass C.C. Winn Saturday. They’ll be at San Angelo Central Tuesday, but then host former district foes South San on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Carl P. Guys Memorial Gymnasium.
Del Rio’s final home varsity game of November comes Wednesday, Nov. 27, when they host San Antonio Veterans Memorial at 1:30 p.m. That will also be Parent’s Night/Senior Night.
Del Rio’s speed and sharp shooting will have to carry the team through the season. Against Roosevelt, the Rams had 20 assists and 11 3-pointers made in the loss. And despite a size disadvantage across the board, the Rams still managed seven steals as they filled the passing lanes and turned most of those turnovers into baskets.
“This team works hard. These kids are coachable and we’ve them aspirations that will take them from being a better team to be the best team they can be. They’re the epitome of what we preach – be selfless, not selfish,” Nieto said.