A fight to the finish
Despite being led by one of the nation’s elite athletes in Ricky Seals-Jones, No. 21 Sealy had to fight off a feisty Tiger squad 81- 75 Tuesday night at Shorthorn Gymnasium.
“We came back and fought hard to try and win the ball game,” said Rockdale Coach Dusty Loewe.
Rockdale ends the season on a four-game skid and have not won since clinching a playoff spot on Feb. 7.
The Tigers finish with a 20-12 record, leaving a trail of broken barriers behind them.
This resurgent version of the Rockdale basketball team recorded the first winning season and made the first playoff appearance by a Tiger team since 1997.
“Winning 20 games is a mark for coaches and players,” said Loewe, who is stuck on 498 career wins. “We broke that 15- year barrier, so maybe that can be the start of something.”
Sealy, 22-5 and the runners-up to Brookshire-Royal in District 24-3A, will now battle perennial state tournament entrant and No. 3 ranked Hardin Jefferson (37-1) in area.
Seals-Jones, the 6-foot-6, 225- pound specimen, finished with 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including four spectacular slam dunks.
Jones, who is expected to commit to the University of Texas to play football Wednesday, also grabbed up 13 rebounds.
Enter ing t he game, Jones was averaging 33 points and 15 rebounds a game for the Tigers.
When Jones wasn’t f lushing out the lane, Sealy relied heavily on the three-point shot, nailing seven-of-23 long range shots.
Three other Tigers reached double figures, including Kris Brown with 18 and reserve Brandon Walker with 15. Both racked up tree treys apiece.
Wendell Mitchell countered with his second straight 24-point performance, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
The freshman point guard was 3-of-9 from behind the arc where Rockdale was seven-of-21 as a team.
William Dean also tossed in a trio of treys and finished with 13 points.
In a physical contest, Sealy marched to the free throw line 36 times, but missed 20 of its attempts.
The Tigers were rewarded with just 10 free throw shots, sinking eight.
Seals-Jones logged his third foul early in the second quarter and despite his physical play, never had another foul called on him despite the Tigers’ efforts.
“ We couldn’t get a call on (Jones- Sealy) no matter how hard we tried,” Loewe said. “They are so reliant on him, if we can get that fifth foul, it would have changed the game. He’s going to be a great football player.”
Loewe questioned officials several times during the course of the game about “protecting” the star player.
They had no such anxiety concerning Rockdale’s Cody Skubal who was forced to sit with foul trouble throughout the contest before finally fouling out with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining to be played.
“When Cody has to go out in the second quarter, that was big,” Loewe said. “He was doing a heck of a job inside against him. Having him in foul trouble hurt.
“We needed some other guys to step up, especially in the third quarter.”
The 6-foot-3 senior finished with 17 hard-earned points and nine rebounds, just missing out on his 15th double-double of the season.
With Skubal planted on the bench, freshman Pearce Loth filled in nicely with a career-high 10 points on 5-of-6 accuracy.
“We did some things that we were not supposed to do and they took advantage,” Loewe said. “We had some guys freeze up, they had some kids step up and make some threes.”
A f ter trailing most of t he first quarter, the Tigers grabbed the lead in the second quarter after Mitchell took a pass from Zach Garza (seven assists), then rained in a 24-foot three-pointer before Garza hit James David (11 rebounds) for a basket for a 31-26 lead.
Sealy regained the lead for good right before intermission when Brown canned a three from the left side with three seconds showing to make it 34-33.
Seals-Jones doled out his most damage in the third quarter, erupting for 11 straight points as Sealy constructed a 52-43 lead.
A pair of three-point bombs f rom Walker f rom the same position, deep in the left corner provided Sealy with its largest lead, 60-45 with 6:39 left in the game.
In the frenetic fourth quarter, in which both teams combined for 61 points, the Tigers could get no closer than five, 80-75, on a pair of free throws fro Mitchell with three seconds remaining.
The 81 points is the most surrendered by the Tigers all season.
After a couple of poor performances, the Tigers played better but still fell to Smithville 63-56 in a playoff battle for third place in District 23-3A.
Mitchell pumped in 24 to lead Rockdale as the Tigers’ last lead came in the first quarter.
TIGERS SEASON STATS
|Rebounds:||Skubal 9.5,||David 5.9|
|Assists:||Mitchell 3.1,||Skubal 2.4|
|FG%: David 51,||Skubal||48|
|FT%: Mitchell||83, Dean||62|