Tigers take down Dawgs in county cage clash
Sparked by a scoring battle between Rockdale’s Chuck Mitchell and Thorndale’s Americo Vazquez and a tantalizing back-and-forth affair, the Tigers pulled away from the Bulldogs 68-59 late Monday night at Bulldog Gymnasium.
Rockdale, which won just 11 games all of last season, improved to 8-3.
Thorndale, which like Rockdale, reached the quarterfinals in football, falls to 3-2.
“Overall, I think our guys played hard, but we have a long way to go,” said Rockdale Coach Sergio Garcia, beginning his second year as head coach. “I need some guys to step up offensively, and I need the entire team to step up defensively.”
“Chuck really turned it on in the second half. He is a really good player,” said Kovar, who is a Thorndale alumnus. “I enjoyed coaching in (the) game. Seeing all the kids and talking to them before and after was a good experience for me. They are some great kids. Seeing (coaches) Charlie (Hall) and Sergio (Garcia) again was also fun. I really enjoyed my years in Rockdale.”
Mitchell finished with 44 points to Vazquez’s 24 as both came up with big buckets when their respective teams needed them. They exchanged baskets eight different times.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 junior who is averaging 37.4 points a game this season, scorched the Bulldogs for 29 points in the second half, including 12 straight to open the fourth quarter, including a pair of three-point bombs from 25 and 30 feet.
Mitchell (18-of-28 from the floor) was ubiquitous on the evening, also snaring 10 rebounds, ripping off five steals and dishing off four assists.
Mitchell needs 108 points to become Rockdale’s all-time leading scorer, eclipsing William McQuitter’s mark of 1,672 set from 2007-10.
The sophomore sensation Vazquez has been the Bulldogs’ leading scorer so far this season (15 ppg) and his season high production carried even more gravitas Monday with the absence of senior floor leader Riley Schaefer who was in street clothes after breaking his nose in the Moulton Tournament over the weekend.
Vazquez—who was also charged with shadowing Mitchell on defense—spread his scoring out evenly between the halves, striking for 13 in the first and 11 in the second.
Like Mitchell, Vazquez had his streak, scoring 10 of Thorndale’s first 13 points of the game.
He also put up eight of the Bulldogs’ first 12 points in the fourth quarter as they tried to keep it close.
Both teams heated up in the final period after Rockdale grabbed the lead for good, 39-38, with 1 minute, 29 seconds left in the third quarter on a William Payne basket.
Leading 45-42 early in the final period, Mitchell sandwiched in a drive to the hoop in between his two three-point bombs to provide the Tigers with their largest lead of the evening, 53-46, with 5:45 remaining to be played.
However, Vazquez and Bradley
Betak then combined for 10 points over the next three minutes to pull the Bulldogs to within 57-56 with 2:42 left in the game.
The Tigers then reeled off nine straight points and outscored Thorndale 11-2 in the final 1:44 to close out the game.
Thorndale’s largest lead came in the opening stanza, when trailing 7-0, they outscored the Tigers 19-5 the rest of the way, which included four consecutive three-pointers (Vazquez, Jordan Hafley and two from Eric Hinistroza) to close out the first quarter with a 19-12 lead.
Darius Ford followed Mitchell in scoring for the Tigers with 15 points, while junior guard Hafley chipped in 17 for Thorndale.
“I knew that it was going to be a battle, Garcia said. “Thorndale has a hard playing group, and they get after it on both sides of the court. Coach Kovar does an excellent job, so I knew they would be ready for us. Fortunately, we were able to make big plays at the end of the game to secure the victory.”
“We moved the ball extremely well in the first half,” said Kovar. “Not blocking out on the free throw line at the end of the game really hurt our chances of winning. Probably got a little tired at the end.
“Overall good game for us. It will really help us improve and prepare for district.”