By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
They just keep coming at you, those high flying, height defying Rice Bulldogs — a team of believers who have shocked everyone in the Golden Circle with one of the best starts of the season.
Rice is not only 9-0 but the Bulldogs, who don’t have a starter over 6-feet tall, won the Frost Tournament on Saturday with another shake-your-head performance, beating Frost 57-50 in the championship game with two starters missing.
Rice took home the boys title and Wortham beat previously unbeaten and state-ranked Frost, 50-42, to take home the girls title.
“I’m really proud of them. This is the first tournament we have ever won since I’ve been here,’’ said Wortham Coach Carla Freeman, who has been at the school for six years and four as the head coach.
For Rice, it was just another chapter in a season that has been ignited by a heart and hustle slogan and that has been perfect to this point.
“Heart and hustle, heart and hustle,’’ said Rice Coach Phillip Eddins, who was beaming after his kids fought through foul trouble and beat Frost Saturday evening. “They’re fearless. Sometimes, a little too fearless.’’
Sim Nezar, a whirlwind freshman, led the Bulldogs with 22 points despite sitting out the second quarter with foul trouble. Nezar hit four 3-pointers and scored eight points down the stretch in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Daniel Arteaga, who fouled out with 2:47 left in the game, finished with 14 points.
“I knew were going to win after I fouled out,’’ said Arteaga, the only senior on the team. “I have faith in my teammates.’’
Arteaga and Nezar two have led Rice all season, but Eddins was just as proud of Adan Payne and Dylynn Anderson, two players who stepped off the bench to have big games.
“I’m proud of the kids because of the way they stepped up and played through adversity,’’ Eddins said. “We were without two starters (Raven Huffman and Austin Peppers) and Dylynn Anderson and Adan Payne really stepped up tonight. Adan had some big baskets in the second quarter. That’s the best game he has ever played at the varsity level.’’
Payne said it was his time.
“I finally decided to relax and play basketball,’’ said Payne, who hit two 3s and scored eight points, including five in the second quarter. “I was a little nervous, but when I made the first 3, it felt great.’’
That’s the way Rice is feeling right now after getting off to a 9-0 start, including three tough wins in the Frost Tournament. Nezar scored on three fast breaks in the stretch to beat Valley Mills in the opener and Anderson hit a put-back with 3.1 seconds to beat Blooming Grove 74-73 in the semifinals.
Frost was led by Isiah Belcher’s 19-point effort and Ryan Worley, who scored 12. The Polar Bears jumped out to an 11-3 in the opening moments, but Rice went on a 13-2 run to end the first quarter with a 16-13 lead. Frost came back and took a 17-16 lead on Ryan Worley’s put-back, but Payne hit a 3 to lift Rice to a 19-17 lead and Colin Haston followed with a 3 and the Bulldogs never trailed after that point.
Haston finished with six points and Jamie Metcalfe (2) and Anderson (1) scored for Rice. Robert Worley scored six for Frost on two 3-pointers and Tyler Stevenson and Zack Terry also finished with six points for the Polar Bears.
“We had two players out because of a family situation. They were at a wedding,’’ Eddins said. “Weddings ... whatever .. it didn’t derail us. We’re 9-0 but we go back to 0-0 on Tuesday when we start our district. We open with Buffalo. They are picked to win the district and we were picked to finish sixth out of seven.’’
But that was before Rice took flight with a team too short and too young and too just too good ...
Wortham’s girls (10-2) have put together a great start this season, but knocking off unbeaten Frost in the title game on Saturday meant a lot to the kids and the coach.
“I knew we were capable of it,’’ said Freeman. “Beating a team that was undefeated will build our confidence.’’
Frost led early, and Jae Moore’s 3 with 40 seconds left in the half lifted Frost to a 24-19 lead. But Wortham stormed back and Courtney Chasteen hit an and-one play with 25 seconds left and Elisha Libhart hit a shot just before the buzzer to knot things at 24-24.
Wortham took over in the third when Kamarie Freeman, who sat out the second quarter in foul trouble, ignited an 11-3 run that broke a 30-30 tie. Freeman hit two drives to start the run and Kierra Busby, who led Wortham with 17 points, and Sarah Sessions both hit big drive. Sessions hit a 3 to give Wortham a 41-33 lead and after Diana Rios answered with a 3 for Frost Sessions made a shot at the buzzer to take a 43-36 lead into the fourth.
Frost went ice cold (no pun intended) in the fourth, missing its first 12 shots from the field and didn’t score from the floor until Kaycee Bowling hit a shot with 46 seconds left in the game to cut the lead to 50-40. Moore, who led Frost with 17 points, hit a shot with four seconds left to make the final 50-42.
Rios finished with 14 points and Bowling scored six. Madison Revill (3) and Hearther Montgomery (2) also scored for Frost.
Chasteen and Libhart each finished with nine points and Kameron Rhodes scored six while Sessions added five and Freeman scored four.