Donna High's Ivette Valladares (23) drives to the net against Weslaco East in a 32-5A game at Donna High School on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Donna. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

DONNA — Yzella Perez and Ivette Valladares rarely miss a beat on the floor for Donna High.

Needing to regain momentum at the beginning of the second half, Valladares slowly dribbled down court before pulling up for a deep 3-pointer.

The shot from the Bravettes’ point guard clanked off the front of the rim and back to Valladares at the top of the arc, where she rifled a bounce pass around a crowd of enclosing Weslaco East defenders to hit Perez on the low block for an easy bank shot.

The Donna High duo gave their squad just the spark it needed to ignite a third-quarter scoring frenzy that helped the Bravettes defend their homecourt and notch a dominant 49-28 victory over the Wildcats in a pivotal District 32-5A game Friday night at Donna High School.

“It was a very tough game, especially coming off another tough one Tuesday against Brownsville Vets,” Donna High head coach Lori Pedroza said.

The Bravettes raced out to an early lead in the first quarter thanks to a near-impenetrable full-court press that led to an 11-0 run fueled by six offensive rebounds.

The Wildcats ran into problems trying to push the ball across halfcourt for the first 8 minutes of play, as Valladares and forward Alyssa Perez swarmed Weslaco East’s guards up and down the court forcing several turnovers.

“We’ve been improving a lot (defensively and in rebounding). Those are two areas we’ve been focusing on a lot,” Pedroza said. “I think we have one of the better defenses and if we keep improving on that, it’s going to be a big strength for us.”

Donna High’s Ivette Valladares (23) drives to the basket against Weslaco East in a District 32-5A game at Donna High School on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Donna. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Weslaco East, however, flipped the script during the second quarter by transitioning into a very effective half-court trap set defensively. The Wildcats flustered Donna’s high-scoring offensive attack and held the Bravettes to one made basket over an 8-minute stretch.

That allowed East to claw back into the game by halftime, cutting the deficit to as few as four points.

Perez, Valladares and the veteran Bravettes came roaring back in authoritative fashion to start the second half, scoring more points in the third quarter (23) than the entire first half (21), which helped Donna run away with a convincing district win.

“We were trying to focus on the things we were lacking,” Pedroza said. “We had a lot of good communication. We weren’t doing as much of that (in the second quarter) as we started with, so at halftime, it was kind of a wake-up call. We needed to settle down and focus on the things we needed to do in order to come out with a W. Thankfully I have the team I do and they were able to pull together, they knew what they needed to do and were able to pull it out at the end.”

Donna slowed down its offense and played lockdown defense in the halfcourt to help turn the tide, but it was Perez’s work on the interior that broke the game wide open.

Donna High’s Yzella Perez (40) drives to the basket against Weslaco East’s Danielle Castillo (22) in a District 32-5A game at Donna High School on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Donna. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The Bravettes’ second-year starter at center dominated the offensive glass, giving her team a huge edge in second-chance points. Perez ended the night with a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double on 64% shooting from the floor.

Her dominant presence in the paint also gave Donna a 38-25 advantage in rebounds.

Valladares’ play in the backcourt complimented Perez’s performance in the frontcourt, as Donna’s point guard tallied 15 points, seven steals, seven rebounds and five assists. Jones added 12 points, five rebounds and four assists as well, as the Bravettes converted on 48% of their shots on the night.

“Ivette is a playmaker. She’s going to go in there and hustle,” Pedroza said. “If you relax on her, she’ll beat you to the hole and if you sag off on her, she wants to put it up. And Yzella can be a real beast on the boards.”

Forward Clarissa Rodriguez led Weslaco East with 12 points, while forward Danielle Castillo and guard Jazlyn Zertuche combined for another 12 points and 13 rebounds.

The victory puts the Bravettes one step closer toward making it back to the Class 5A UIL state playoffs after their postseason dreams were dashed in the final game of the 2019-20 regular season.

“The girls came in with the mentality that we left some unfinished business out there,” Pedroza said. “The girls came in determined (this season) and ready to play Bravette basketball and hopefully get us back to the state playoffs again.”

Donna High returns to action at 1 p.m. Saturday to host the Brownsville Pace Vikings with the winner moving into second place in a tight District 32-5A playoff race.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch