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Bulldogs beat Bears; crowned 27AAA Bi-District Champs

By Sandy Jennings BCC Contributor

Photo by Sandy Jennings
The Bulldog Varsity Basketball team enjoyed a spirited sendoff from the student body at a special morning pep rally hosted by the cheerleaders. Coach Bob Shearhart, Ty Neff and Corey Jennings spoke at the rally, encouraging everyone to attend the 'Bear hunt.'

Driving into the newly renovated Alamo Convocation Center in San Antonio this past Monday night, you could feel the excitement in the air as cars packed with Bulldog fans poured into the center to watch the Bandera Bulldogs take on the LaVernia Bears for the 27AAA Bi-District title.
The multimillion dollar facility sporting state-of-the-art lighting, a jumbotron and a sound system worthy of the Spurs could not hold the attention of the blue-clad fans. Instead, their focus lie on the fourteen boys huddled in the center of the court, chanting their battle cry one last time before heading to the locker room after warm-ups. Fourteen young men that have spent the past three or four years battling in Bulldog gymnasium for this one opportunity--to earn a basketball title.
"The hard work from this year and years past has finally paid off," junior Ty Neff said.
Hard work, extreme hustle, intense defense and a will to win played an enormous role in Bandera's intense back and forth battle with the Bears.
The first quarter started with both teams sluggish on the boards and the Bears answered back equally to junior Averie Mansfield's two baskets and a free throw, and Neff's solo basket.
The Bulldogs picked up the pace in the second quarter and picked up 10 unwanted fouls. LaVernia scored 8 points from the free-throw line and, despite Mansfield's 7 points, Neff's basket, and junior Corey Jennings' two free throws, the Bears outscored Bandera 21-18 at half.
"When we got to the dressing room, I asked them if they were ready to give it up," Head Basketball Coach Bob Shearhart said. "Nobody was. They made it happen in the second half. In the heat of the battle, they remembered what they needed to do and they were able to get it done."
What the 'Dogs needed to do was shutdown LaVernia's leading scorer Sims, while putting points on the board themselves. And they did. In the third quarter, Bandera outscored LaVernia 11-10, with Neff finding the rim for seven points, and Mansfield and junior Noah Nelson snagging a basket. Senior Jonathan Stoufflet, senior Jonathan Raitz and Jennings turned on the heat with three steals a piece.
"I decided to go in there and do what Coach has always wanted me to do--move my feet quickly and steal the ball," Stoufflet said.
Even though the intense 'Dog defense was starting to unravel the Bears, Bandera still trailed LaVernia 29-31 at the start of the fourth.
"After Coach's speech at half-time, I knew I needed to step it up and I decided to lay it all out there, "Neff said. "I wasn't going to leave with any regrets."
Neff got right to work and scored a baseline dropper, evening the score 31-31, seconds within the fourth. LaVernia answered back with a three, taking back the lead.
Mansfield's big Bear stuff rallied the crowd and a LaVernia foul put senior Caleb Beauchamp on the line, sinking one and bringing the score to 34-32 with 5:40 left.
Jennings, a dominant force under the Bears' basket, wrestled some Bears to the ground in an intense battle that landed the ball back in Bandera's hands.
Seconds later, Raitz, a formidable force at the perimeter, took a charge that led to a Neff free throw and a 34-33 score with four minutes left.
The 'Dogs worked the baseline offensively and Neff finger-rolled a lay-up, putting Bandera up 35-34 with less than two minutes.
LaVernia answered back with a three and the 'Dogs found Neff on the inside for a 2 point jumper, bringing the score to 37-37.
Jennings pulled down a big rebound that earned Bandera the ball and a much needed timeout.
The score stood at 39-39 with 35 seconds left.
Bandera executed a fast break that found Neff charging the basket, and according to officials, a LaVernia defender. With possession of the ball, the Bears called a timeout with 9 seconds on the clock and the score tied 39-39.
In an attempt to support their beloved Bulldogs, the student section, which has been a powerhouse of spirit throughout the season, ran through the stadium to position themselves under the LaVernia basket.
With a blaring crowd and an even louder jumbotron, the Bulldogs took the court for their last defensive play.
A pass into a Bear post found Jennings and senior Marshall Beightol in perfect position for a steal. As Jennings clawed the ball from the Bear, Beightol snatched it. And then the unthinkable happened. The Bear fouled Beightol and sent him to the line for a one-in-one with 1.7 seconds left in the game.
"I've dreamed about a moment like that all of my life, but never thought it would happen," Beightol said.
With the rest of his teammates waiting down court, Beightol found himself alone on the line, facing a slew of screaming, bouncing Bears that had filled the stands under the basket.
The first shot bounced off the rim and Beightol focused.
"I knew what I needed to do to fix the second free throw and I did it," Beightol said.
The second shot swooshed and the crowd went crazy. Officials fought to keep the crowd back as the Bears attempted a desperate half-court shot as the buzzer sounded.
"I am stoked!" Raitz said. "It was a tough game the whole way through. We cam together as a band of brothers and we didn't let anything stop us from reaching our goal."
With a Bi-District Champion title, Bandera, who has not journeyed into the playoffs in five years, will forge ahead to their next goal--an Area Championship.
"I thought both teams played extremely well," Shearhart said. "It was hard fought like we knew it would be. You never know when one little thing is going to make a difference and tonight it did. They never stopped believing, even when they were down."

Another hard fought battle lies ahead for the Bulldogs, as they take on state-ranked Wharton, this Friday at 6:00PM in Gonzalez, Tx.