La Joya Palmview's Karla Hernandez (3) battles for the ball against Rio Hondo's Eliza Rodriguez (3) in a non-district game at Palmview High School on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in La Joya. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

MISSION — Both the La Joya Palmview Lobos and Rio Hondo Bobcats were scheduled to play other teams Tuesday night but instead found each other facing off against one another in a matchup arranged at the last second after both teams had games canceled on them due to COVID-19 concerns within other programs.

Neither the Bobcats nor Lobos, however, wasted their opportunity to get back on the court before the winter break and the start of district play.

Both sides embraced a frenetic pace from the opening jump with Rio Hondo ultimately pulling away for a 77-48 victory over the Lobos in a game defined by up-tempo offense and physical defense Tuesday night at La Joya Palmview High School.

“Obviously, it’s been a crazy year, so I was scrambling to find a game and thankfully (Palmview) coach (Annisa Reyna) was able to play,” Rio Hondo head coach Robert Jaramillo said. “We were allowed (in District 32-4A) to play five non-district games and today was our last one before we start district play Friday. I was worried we weren’t going to be able to play, but fortunately, we got our last non-district game in and a tuneup for district.”

The Bobcats and Lobos traded baskets and turnovers throughout a chaotic and fast-paced first quarter.

Both teams found a lot of initial success driving the lane and drawing contact in the paint to get to the free-throw line, but Rio Hondo’s airtight defense started to make it difficult for Palmview to get set up in its half-court offense.

“It’s tough to go into a game without knowing what to expect, but it was good and that’s what I told my girls,” Jaramillo said. “‘No matter what they come out with, we’re going to have to adjust and play.’ I thought we did a good job overall.”

That eventually led the Lobos to pick up the pace and excel in transition offensively, which kept Rio Hondo’s lead to one or two possessions throughout the first 8 minutes of game action.

That’s when the Bobcats began to make adjustments defensively, namely shifting into a full-court trap and pressed Palmview’s guards toward the sideline as they brought the ball upcourt often blanketed by multiple defenders.

Rio Hondo in turn forced several turnovers and blitzed the young Lobos squad in the second quarter to blow the game wide open. The Bobcats led by 17 points or more throughout the entire second half.

“That’s one of our staples as far as what we do here at Rio Hondo,” Jaramillo said. “Our two (returning starters) got it going and the other girls chimed in and did a great job. We’re hoping that it carries over for the rest of the season.”

Natalie Martinez and Eliza Rodriguez, Rio Hondo’s returning starters, led the way for the Bobcats offensively, who ended the game shooting 57% from the field as a team.

Martinez scored a game-high 25 points for Rio Hondo, while Rodriguez added 16 points, eight steals, four rebounds and four assists.

Freshman Jocelyn Rojas led the charge for the Lobos with 19 points, while Hailey Cantu and Lucy Ruiz combined for another 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.

“They’ve been doing a good job and they push each other in practice,” Jaramillo said. “It showed a little bit on the court here today.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch