Edinburg Vela's Alex Cantu (15) drives to the basket against Weslaco High in a 31-6A opener at Edinburg Vela High School on Friday, Jan. 3 in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The Edinburg Vela SaberCats were feeling it from deep during their District 31-6A opener against Weslaco High last Friday.

After a scoring burst from the Panthers late during the fourth quarter, Edinburg Vela’s Matt Arteaga drove into the paint and, just as the Weslaco defense converged on the ball-handler, kicked it out to a teammate standing behind the 3-point line in the left corner.

That teammate was Bobby Espericueta. The Edinburg Vela senior guard handled the pass, left his feet and took his shot. As the ball splashed through the net, Arteaga raised a finger to his lips as the SaberCats quieted the Weslaco High crowd and crushed any hopes of a comeback.

It was Vela’s 12th 3-pointer of the game and Espericueta’s fifth as the SaberCats pulled away for a 64-55 victory at Edinburg Vela High School.

“I felt like our guys played with a lot of energy, played with a lot of intensity,” Edinburg Vela head coach Lucio Rodriguez said. “We know what kind of team coach (Gabriel) Valdez has over there. He always has a great team and a great program, so we always have to bring our best, and I think our guys brought their best today.”

Espericueta finished with a game-high 29 points, 18 of which came during the second half.

“As of late, Bobby’s been stepping it up,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been scoring at all different levels — layups, midrange, 3-pointers — so his play has elevated, and by him elevating his play, it’s elevated our play as well.”

“I just like to be a floor-general and try to lead my guys on the floor and where to go,” Espericueta said. “They get me the open looks and I just have to knock them down.”

Vela’s Alex Cantu added four buckets from deep, while Kaleb Coronado also knocked down two 3-pointers. Jacob Rodriguez even got in on long-distance fun as the sophomore drained a 3 to beat the third-quarter buzzer.

“We just get hyped whenever we hit threes, the whole bench gets hyped when we start hitting,” Cantu said after a 14-point performance.

Through non-district and tournament play, the SaberCats compiled an 8-14 record. The majority of their games came against playoff-caliber teams who were in the postseason last year.

Going up against top competition early has helped prepare the SaberCats for any team, Rodriguez said.

“There was a rough stretch there in non-district, but our guys kept trucking,” Rodriguez said. “They kept their heads high and it paid dividends today, but we still have 11 games to go.”

Cantu said losing a couple of those tight games taught the SaberCats how to close like they did Friday against the Panthers.

“It shows us that we’re dogs and we’re ready for the district season,” Cantu said.