The Weslaco East Wildcats won a heart-racing game last Tuesday that asserted the group as one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most formidable defenses in girls high school basketball that carried historic implications as well.

The Wildcats took down the Roma Gladiators 35-34 last week in Weslaco to give Weslaco East head coach William Kromer his 400th career victory as a high school coach, making him one of the all-time wins leaders among active coaches across the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.

“You try not to think about it, to be honest with you, because it’s really not about the coach. It’s about the kids,” Kromer said. “I really didn’t mention it much and the kids kinda knew. I was at 397 wins when the season started and I told a few seniors, ‘Hey, you guys are going to win me my win 400th game.’ It was kind of cool to see their faces and during this pandemic especially, it’s just really cool to have something positive.”

Kromer has enjoyed a lengthy basketball coaching career across the Rio Grande Valley that has spanned the better part of two decades, most recently between Donna High and Weslaco East.

Kromer’s now-retired father, Kevin, is one of the all-time coaching wins leaders in RGV high school basketball history with over 700 victories to his name. Both Kromer’s are well-known for having tough defensive squads on the court.

This year’s Weslaco East squad, however, might be one of his toughest yet. The Wildcats are 3-2 to start the season after their hard-fought win over the Roma Gladiators in a matchup between two Class 5A playoff contenders this season.

Weslaco East head girls basketball coach HC William Kromer gives instructions during a time out in a game against Brownsville Hanna at Weslaco East High School on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“Roma is fast and they’re very aggressive,” Kromer said. “We were going to apply pressure to them in the half-court and the full court, and they responded very well to the full-court pressure so we tried to stay in a half-court press. The attrition of just the constant pressure on them led them to turn the ball over more times than we did.”

The Gladiators raced out to an early lead, but the Wildcats battled back in the second half and rallied to put themselves in a position to retake the lead down the stretch and set up one of the most climactic finishes of the regular season in the Rio Grande Valley so far this year.

“We came from behind; we were down the entire game. We tied it up and with 1.1 seconds left, we got a steal and one of my guards passed it the length of the court down the sideline,” Kromer said.

Sophomore Clarissa Rodriguez, who’s playing her first season of varsity basketball, snagged the deep downcourt pass and drew a foul with less than a second to play and a chance to give her team the lead.

The first shot from the free-throw line rimmed out, but Rodriguez sank the second to give the Wildcats a wild walk-off win and Kromer his 400th career victory.

Weslaco East girls basketball head coach William Kromer, left, celebrates with his coaching staff and team after picking up his 400th career coaching win in a one-point win over the Roma Gladiators on Tuesday at Weslaco East High School. Courtesy Photo | Weslaco East Athletics

“She just came over from volleyball. She does cheer, band, volleyball, I’m sure she’s in track and I think she plays softball, but on the basketball court, she caught that ball, drew a foul and made the game-winning free throw,” Kromer said of Rodriguez.

“I knew we were going to win. After 27 years of coaching, when I saw (Rodriguez) go to the line, I said to myself, ‘I know she’s going to make this,’” he added. “Whenever she missed the first one, she looked over at me and I just told her, ‘Clarissa, I am so proud of you. You have played such a good game.’ That’s all I told her and it was nothing but net.”

It was a memorable and remarkable win for both Rodriguez, Kromer and the Wildcats, who overcame some early-season offense struggles and now appear to be one of the Valley’s toughest defenses in Class 5A.

“We had what I would call a come-to-Jesus practice moment where we worked out hard and they had a different disposition (afterward) where because they had practiced so hard, losing was not going to be acceptable,” Kromer said. “It really paid off because although we lost the previous game to Economedes … we lost off a 3-pointer off the backboard to beat us, but we got some confidence from that. Then, when Roma came in, we totally played like a different team. It was really fun, to be honest with you.”

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