The Wildcats are going back to San Antonio. Big Sandy will make the return trip after defeating the Tenaha Tigers 70-45 Saturday in the Region III Championship at Leon Jewitt High School.
The meeting with Tenaha was a rematch from the regional championship one year ago, when the 'Cats defeated the Tigers 59-38 in the same gymnasium to advance to the Alamodome.
“I had already seen (Tenaha) once this year and I had two game films on them,” Big Sandy coach Kevin Foster said. “With online video and the coaches scouting, we knew (Trai Gardner, Colton Goeke and Ja’Qualin Franks) were phenomenal for them. When (Goeke) was open in the second half, he was very effective. They were a really different team from last year. I thought they were more athletic this year than last year.”
A tough battle early had the Wildcats out in front by a 12-4 margin on the strength of a couple of Zach Dickens and Angel Bullock field goals when Tenaha coach Greg Jenkins yelled for time.
After a Tiger jumper, Bullock would soon hit a 3-pointer from the wing. Bullock was terrific passing the ball, finding Dickens more than once under the rim for two. Both exited the game for a breather at the 1:20 mark with a 21-10 lead.
The Tigers were led by Franks and Goeke, who each had four.
Tenaha would get one more layup off a theft to put the tally at 21-12 after one.
Mid-range jumpers, excellent distribution and Bullock from long range kept Big Sandy out in front. With three minutes left, the Wildcats had built a 36-18 advantage.
Goeke collected two more buckets to lead Tenaha after two periods with eight. Dickens and Bullock were tops on the Polk County representative with 10 each.
Two more points from the 'Cats gave a 20-point buffer at the half.
Benson Williams hit a three, making the score 43-25 as Jenkins called a time out to have words with Franks for losing his assignment.
The Tigers assembled a press to make up ground. Momentum shifted momentarily as Goeke found consistency on two 3-pointers. The margin would close to 15 before Big Sandy found better footing that followed a quick break.
“(The time out) was basically to stop the momentum,” Foster said. “We talked about what they were doing defensively and some things that I saw defensively from us. I wanted us to regroup a little bit. I thought we responded outstanding to them.”
Dickens continued his assault down in the paint where he led the team with six for the quarter. Passing remained timely and quick, with many off of dribble penetration.
“We share the ball and see the floor better than any team I've had. Their skill level is so high to be able to see the floor and you can't do that unless you're highly skilled. The other part of that is unselfishness. This team doesn't care who's the leading scorer. They want to win. Zach had a monster game tonight and everybody was slapping him. Because of that and no big egos, they are so much fun to coach.”
To begin the fourth, a 53-30 score seperated the two squads.
Layton VonBerg hit a three early, to go along with the excellent passing and defense the senior provided earlier.
Other than the Wildcat passing, Dickens may have been the story of the game. The post had another eight points through half of the final period.
“One thing we talked about today when we had the walkthrough this morning was getting the ball inside. I told whoever was playing the five (low post) to get that guy on your back because I knew the zone was going to be spread not only to get it to him, but also from the guys cutting through the zone. We flashed people through the zone in the middle and that just opens things wider for us.
“Zach is very skilled. He plays really hard, but he is a very skilled post. I think zones can be effective against us, especially if they have size and can cover a lot of ground. We don't see a lot of it because of our shooting ability; I think that keeps teams away from it.”
With two minutes left, the game had been decided. The 66-40 score allowed fans in purple to celebrate the final few minutes before making plans for San Antonio.
Dickens led Big Sandy with 24, while Benson Williams had 15 and Bullock added 11 and many great passes. Goeke was the only Tiger in double figures, ending the game with 29.
“Anytime you make it to the regional tournament I've always said it is a great year no matter the outcome. Canadian was very deserving last year, because they outplayed us. At the same time, we felt like we let one get away from us. They were better than us on that day and we played an average game when we needed to play good.
“It's going to be very difficult; winning a state championship is hard. The state of Texas is so big and there are plenty of good teams. Every team that is going to be there will be a cut above what we have seen here. It will be a tough task, but I think the kids are hungry and hopefully that disappointment will carry us to get it done this weekend.”
The Wildcats ran into familiar foes in the regional tournament, as three of the four same schools from last year played in Jewett. Another memorable school has made the state tournament again this year, with the Canadian Wildcats also traveling back to the Alamo city. The two schools will be joined by Muenster and Thorndale.
Semifinal games are set for 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Friday, with the championship Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
“Right after last year, I said all four of the teams could be back next year. All four were in the regional tournament. We will get our pairings tomorrow and start with the whole process again.”
The Big Sandy basketball season continued rolling into Saturday with a 73-41 win over the Grapeland Sandies in the Class 2A Regional Semifinals at Jewett Leon High School.
Grapeland reached the regional tournament by defeating Cayuga, Riesel and LaPoyner. The LaPoyner team they outscored 60-43 Tuesday was the same that they had dropped previous games to on Dec. 4 (52-49) and Dec. 12 (56-47). Missing a key post player in the postseason due to academics, LaPoyner was not able to complete the hat trick versus the Sandies.
Friday’s tip began with a Samuel Richard long distance bucket to make the game 3-0, Big Sandy never trailed the entire contest. The Wildcats took an early 10-4 lead on the strength of a few threes, with the other coming from Benson Williams.
At the 2:30 mark of the first, Grapeland coach Cannon Earp called for time out after a Seth Mayes jumper from six feet put the 'Cats up 18-11.
Angel Bullock followed a three ball with a minute left by an uncontested layup to close out the frame 25-13.
“We played hard, we played with intensity, and did a lot of good things,” Big Sandy coach Kevin Foster said. “Early on, our defense wasn't real sharp just like the other night. Once we got settled and figured out a few things, I thought we were outstanding again. Offensively, they played us man-to-man and I thought we were able to do some things to exploit the way they were playing. We will try to enjoy this a little while, but that is the thing about being in a tournament like this, it is a quick turnaround and it's the same for everyone.”
Two field goals from Bullock and free throws by Zach Dickens had the Wildcats up 31-15 a few minutes into the second. Bullock led the team in the second with three field goals.
Continued success in the half-court, working the ball around with crisp passes, gave Big Sandy shots close to the rim. But, it was the smothering purple defense that outshined all in the second, picking off passes and giving ball handlers fits.
The Sandies rushed shots and could not find an uncontested attempt in the quarter, scoring just three.
At the break, Big Sandy led 39-16.
Bullock did not give Grapeland much time to settle in for the second half, popping two 3-pointers in the first 31 seconds. Down by nearly 30 and trying to match the Wildcat play, the Sandies pulled up for ill-advised bombs in an effort to retaliate.
“I feel like we can play any style,” Foster said. “I feel like we prefer to play fast but we are not always going to be able to do that. If you are not accustomed to playing a certain style, you can be in trouble.”
A three-point play from Richard, a field goal from Maze, and two baskets by Joseph Willams gave the Wildcats a 15-0 third quarter run in four minutes of clock when Grapeland called for time.
Big Sandy had outscored its opponent 33-7 in the second and third quarters for a 58-20 advantage.
“I guess you could say we had two good defensive quarters,” the coach said. “They are actually a good shooting team and we tried to pressure them. They have had games to where they hit 10 or 11 threes this year. They made a few, but I think overall, every time they took a shot, we were pressuring the shooter. We did a good job of helping out when they were able to get by. It will also take a good defensive effort tomorrow, no matter who we play.”
Richard led the fourth with eight of the Wildcats' 15 points. The Sandies managed 21 in garbage time, when play became a bit more sloppy. It was one point more than they totalled in the opening three frames.
Bullock led the match with 24, while Richard had 16 and Benson Williams added 15.
“Tomorrow morning, we will have a walk through and try to go over some of the things that they like to do. When you get to this point in the year, one of the main things is to talk about their personnel and who you have to guard and really watch out for.”
On Saturday, the Wildcats face Tenaha for the Region III championship. The Tigers defeated Kerens 74-67 to advance to Saturday’s match. The winner will head to San Antonio for the state tournament. (Stay up-to-the-minute with all things Big Sandy at www.polkenterprise.com)
The Waelder Wildcats halted the Leggett Pirates’ playoff run with a 69-54 win Tuesday in Region IV quarterfinal action at Bryan Rudder High School.
The Pirates, who conclude their season at 24-10, won the District 29-1A championship and defeated Nordheim for the Area title before running into a hot-shooting Waelder team that blistered the nets with 10 3-pointers.
The Wildcats were feeling it from the get-go, as freshman Justin Schilhab connected four of his five 3-pointers in the game’s first eight minutes. Schilhab was one of four players that finished double-digits in a well-balanced offensive attack.
“Waelder is a good team, a good ballclub, no doubt,” Leggett head coach Dennis Stewart said, following the third-round playoff game. “I’ve got to take my hat off to them. They got out early and they hit some major shots in transition.”
Despite being down by as many as eight points in both the first and second frames, the Pirates pulled to within one just before halftime, aided by an 18-17 advantage in the second quarter.
The Wildcats held a four-point lead at the break, 36-32, but would seal their victory by outscoring Leggett 33-19 in the second half. Consistent shooting prevailed, as the Wildcats tossed in four more treys and connected 8-of-14 from the free throw line.
“We kept closing the lead, but we could never catch up,” said Stewart. “They’ve got five guys that can actually shoot the ball — a lot of balance, it kind of reminds you of Golden State a little bit. You don’t ever know where it’s going to come from, but you know it’s coming, and one thing about Waelder, they can run. They can run, and they have speed and quickness.”
The District 30 runner-up Wildcats advanced in the Class 1A playoffs with wins over High Island 30-24 and Nueces Canyon 74-45 before facing the Pirates.
Waelder joined Coolidge, McMullen County and Calvert in a battle for the Region IV crown at the Berger Center in Austin. The winner will advance to the UIL state tournament in San Antonio, March 10-12.
The Pirates should be a strong bet to make another run in the postseason next year, losing just one senior from this year’s talented squad.
“I’ve got to say, I thank God for these kids. These kids are fantastic,” Stewart said. “One plus for us is that we had 10 guys, and we’ve got nine coming back.
“First thing we told them (following the game) is that we love them, and for them to be thankful for what they did, 24-10 for the season.
“Last year we went out in the first round, this year we went out in the third. I made a statement in there today, that they have what we call “unfinished business.”
“They’ve had a taste and that’s something they have got to live with now for 365 days. We’re going to get to that tournament.
“We’re not going to stop working. We’re going to move on, learn from this, and we’re going to get better.”
This year’s roster consisted of four freshman, one sophomore and four juniors. The lone senior is E’Zavier Bacon and he will be irreplaceable according to Stewart.
“I love him to death; he’s been great for us. You don’t replace that, because that’s four years of hard work and I’ll tell you, he put his heart into it everyday; he’s a gym rat.”
Bacon was one of three Pirates to score double-digits in the loss Tuesday night. Despite foul trouble, which had him on the bench at the 5:45 mark of the fourth quarter, the Pirates’ lone senior still finished with 10 points.
“There were some questionable calls,” Stewart said. “I thought they made some calls out of position, but you can’t harp on that too much. He did a great job.”
Kevin Washington proved to be the toughest Pirate to handle, leading the team with 20 points. Washington scored four in the opening frame, seven in the second, three in the third and six in the final period.
Sillah Koroma was runner-up with 13 points. He was key for the Pirates staying close to the Wildcats in the first half, scoring nine points in the first two frames. Washington scored 11 and Bacon contributed six in the first half.
A single digit third quarter led to the Pirates’ ultimate demise, as Waelder outscored Leggett 17-9. The team was limited to two field goals and 5-of-8 free throws.
The Pirates drained a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, one by Alex Garcia and another by Washington. The team finished with four behind the arc, as sophomore Darius Cooper hit two in the second quarter to finish the game with six points.
Freshman Tavorous McQueen rounded out the Pirate scorecard with a field goal in the fourth period.
Waelder finished the final frame with a 16-10 advantage over the Pirates. They connected three field goals, one trey and tossed in seven free throws.
The Big Sandy Wildcats defeated the San Augustine Wolves 72-40 Tuesday night at Hudson High School and move on to the next round of Class 2A playoffs. (Full coverage of Tuesday's game will be in this Thursday's edition of the Enterprise.)
The Leggett Pirates defeated the Nordheim Pirates 71-49 Firday night at Sealy High School to advance in the Class 1A playoffs. (Full coverage of Friday's game will be in this Thursday's edition of the Enterprise.)
E'zavier Bacon (10) of Leggett shoots a jumpshot during action against the Nordheim Pirates in Class 1A playoff action.
Sillah Koroma (42) of Leggett blocks a shot during Class 1A playoff action against Nordheim.