Bulldogs lose nail biter in area championship
By Sandy Jennings BCC Contributor
Huddled in the center of the court with two minutes left on the clock, the Bulldogs found themselves in familiar territory--at the end of an epic battle with a scoreboard reflecting a two-point game, shocking their opponents and proving their tenacity once again.
Inside the huddle, the young team did what they do best--lifted each other up.
"We just kept telling each other that we could do this, win this game," junior Corey Jennings said. "We've always believed that together, we could beat anyone."
The Wharton Tigers also believed victory was attainable. They arrived at the Gonzales High School gym this past Friday, as their undefeated (12-0) District champs. Matching up with Bandera (22-14 overall and 7-3 in District) for the Area Championship seemed the least of their worries--this top state ranked team planned to win.
Head Coach Bob Shearhart and his thirteen-strong army shared the same plans.
"You know I have been doing this [coaching basketball] for a long time, and almost always there comes a time when the kids believe that they have all the necessary requirements and knowledge to finish the year," Shearhart said. "They don't come right out and say it, but you can tell they are tired of being taught. This group of young men never reached that point. They came to practice every day ready to learn, to be coached on to victory. They believed in their teammates and believed in the coaching staff. There was never a doubt that they could not overcome any challenge."
The Tigers did not plan on Bandera taking a five point lead in the first quarter. Wharton did not plan on the Bulldogs to come back from a ten point deficit at half-time and continue to battle, capturing another lead in the third quarter and consistently keeping the game within one to two points throughout the fourth quarter.
"I think we surprised them (Wharton) with the game we brought," junior Averie Mansfield said. Mansfield, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 19 points, commented on how the Wharton players, fans and even the referees said that Bandera was the toughest game the Tigers had faced this year.
It was definitely a game undecided until the final buzzer. Forced to foul, Bandera sent the Tigers to the line, allowing Wharton to pick up their final points in free throws. Senior Jonathan Raitz fought for a final lay-up and a final Bulldog basket, ending the game 58-60 in favor of the Tigers.
"I don't know if words can describe what this season has meant to me," Raitz said. "We honestly could have finished last in District and it still would have been one of the greatest things I've ever been part of. Each player on the team contributed an intricate piece to our success and one by one our goals became a reality. I'm going to miss playing with these guys so much and I wish the best to each of them."
Raitz, one of the five seniors on the team and cited by Shearhart as the "little general," followed Mansfield in scoring with 13 points and multiple rebounds. Also contributing for the 'Dogs were senior Marshall Beightol with 9 points and a block, junior Noah Nelson with 7 points and multiple rebounds, senior Caleb Beauchamp with 4 points, junior Ty Neff with 4 points and numerous rebounds, junior Corey Jennings with 2 points and leader of the 'Dogs in defensive rebounds, and senior Jonathan Stoufflet with a rebound and a steal.
Even though they are losing unforgettable and invaluable seniors, the future looks bright for the Bulldogs who will return seven Varsity players next year and face a new basketball District. With U.I.L.'s new Districts for 2014-15, Bandera may not face the Tigers again next year until late in the playoffs. One thing is certain, Coach Shearhart will continue to believe in the tenacity of his Bulldogs.
"They had high expectations of each other and high expectations of the coaches," Shearhart said. "This was truly a team with many hearts, but with one heart beat. What made them successful? A willingness to give all they had, all of the time."