SHOOTING for the PLAYOFFS
For the past 14 seasons, hope has sprung eternal for the Rockdale Tiger basketball team, it has too, because that is how long it has been since a Tiger basketball team has posted a winning record or made a playoff appeaance.
Five different coaches have tried unsuccesfully since Dean Hollingsworth retired after a nine-year run (eight winning seasons) and a state tournament appearance in 1995.
They came close in the years 2006 and 2007, losing in a playoff games for third place in district, both times to Hutto.
However, there is a sense of new hope in 2012 as the Tigers have gotten off to one of their best starts in several years with a 13-7 record.
“Our complete focus has been getting ready for Friday night at LaGrange,” said Rockdale Coach Dusty Loewe. “ We have been working on what we need to work on to compete in this district.”
A large part of the Tigers’ early season success is the play of freshman point guard Wendell Mitchell who leads the Tigers in scoring (15.7), assists (2.7), steals , free throws (84 percent) and three-pointers (35).
Perhaps just recovering from football season, Cody Skubal (11.7 ppg, 8.9 reb) has been on a tear as of late, with the 6-foot-3 senior recording nine straight doubledigit rebounding outings and eight straight double-doubles.
The 13 wins represents the most by a Tiger team since Loewe led them to 16 victories in 2010 with William McQuitter and his son Lance.
They have won nine of their last 10 games and because the Tigers have been winning by large margins, Loewe has been able to get valuable playing time for his reserves.
Rockdale will have to battle to nab one of the top three spots.
Always talented and defending league champion Navasota will be favored with Smithville a close second, with five starters returning and a rejuvinated program.
Navasota took No. 5 ranked Silsbee to overtime on Saturday.
“We have been picked third by Tex Preps and TABC, but Giddings, LaGrange and Caldwell will also be fighting for that third spot. Caldwell is much improved from the past,” said Loewe who chalked up his 490th career win Friday against Georgetown Gateway.
For him to reach 500, would include a playoff party.
Steaming out to a 21-8 first quarter lead and 41-22 halftime bulge propelled the Tigers to a 77-62 victory over Waco Methodist Children’s Home on the road Tuesday night.
The Tigers were also 6- of-7 from the free throw line.
Mitchell, Skubal and Zach Garza combined for 57 of Rockdale’s 77 points, with Mitchell leading the way with 22 points, including three three-pointers.
Skubal turned in his ninth double-double of the season with a season-high 20 points, while collecting 13 rebounds, seven assists and a pair of steals.
Garza also registered a season high with 15 points on the strength of three shots from behind the arc.
Six- foot- four senior guard Chance Gibson blistered the Tigers for 31 points, exactly half the Bulldogs (8-8) total. Gibson averages 28 points per game.
Gateway (4-15) was no match for the Tigers in their 66-30 victory at Tiger Gym.
Rockdale blistered the nets with 58 percent shooting, then product of a successful half-court trap that resulted in a bevy of layups in a game that took barely an hour to complete.
“The half-court trap was big for us tonight,” Loewe said. “We got some early easy baskets and that set the stage for the ball game.”
The inside success also opened up the perimeter game and the Tigers knocked down seven-of-12 shots from behind the three-point arc, with Mitchell, Zach Garza and Reggie Hamilton converting two each.
Mitchell tossed in 23 points, including 13 in the first half. Mitchell was successful on the Tigers’ only free throw attempt, coming at the start of the game.
TIGERS SEASON STATS
|Rebounds:||Skubal 9.1,||David 5.3|
|Assists:||Mitchell 2.6,||Dean 2.2|
|FG%: Ford 64,||David 52|
|FT%: Mitchell||83, Garza||75|
|3PTS: Mitchell||30, Dean||11|
DISTRICT 23-3A OUTLOOK
ROCKDALE—The resurgent Tigers have already surpassed their win total from last season. Freshman point guard Wendell Mitchell has been a shot in the arm in more ways than one and leads the Tigers in scoring (15.9), assists (2.7), steals (39), free throws (84 percent) and 3-pointers (35). Perhaps just shaking off the effects of football season, senior Cody Skubal has been on a tear lately, recording nine doubledoubles and nine straight doubledigit rebounding games. Current record: 13-7.
NAVASOTA—These sneaky snakes can come at you with an 11-deep bench, led by the district’s best offensive player in Kadarius Baker. The defending district champions feature three starters and a half-dozen lettermen. Current record: 11-9.
SMITHVILLE— Some are choosing these Tigers as a dark horse to take the district crown, derivative of their recent success in football and all five returning starters. They are again led by a pair of in-the-paint seniors in Coltyn Brown and Joe Crank as well as district MVP, guard Oscar Kenebrew (10.8 ppg, 4.8 asts). Current record: 11-7.
GIDDINGS—The Buffs returned to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons in 2011 despite a losing record. Led by 6-foot-5 center Mason Becker, Giddings features eight seniors on the roster. Current record: 7-7.
LAGRANGE—The low scoring Leopards just missed out on a playoff berth last season after a bi-district appearance the year before. Senior Phoenix Bunch (12.5 ppg, 5.1 reb) will need to score a bunch of points. Current record: 7-7.
CALDWELL—The Hornets more than doubled their win total (12) last season than in Coach Kevin Smisek’s first two seasons (5) combined, but were still last in district. Stingers are counting on seven sophomores to grow up quickly. Current record: 7-5.