By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
The Navarro Runnin’ Bulldogs finished the first seven-game stretch of conference play right where they want to be — all alone in first place.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs finished off a 6-1 record against South Zone opponents with a 74-70 victory over Angelina on Saturday at the Wolens Center in a battle of the two remaining one-loss team in Region XIV.
Toney Foster scored 21 points and Princeton Onwas added 20 points as the Bulldogs held the lead for most of the game.
It was one of Navarro’s best all-around efforts of the season. The Bulldogs ran their offense efficiently, and they made key defensive stops as Angelina closed Navarro’s lead to 53-50 with 8:17 left in the game.
It was another reminder of the parity in the conference, and because of that, how every possession matters.
“No team is really a cut above anyone else,” Navarro coach Johnny Estelle said. “So you have to execute and play together as a team.”
With an automatic bid to the national tournament at stake for the regular season champion, Saturday’s win gives the Bulldogs another leg up on South Zone teams. Navarro (14-4) has the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage on all the South teams except for San Jacinto as the schedule switches to 12 home-and-home games against East Zone teams to finish out the regular season.
Navarro at 6-1 is a game ahead of 5-2 Kilgore in the East Zone. Trinity Valley and Tyler are 4-3. The Bulldogs face a big trap game Wednesday night at Panola. The Ponies are the only winless team in conference at 0-7.
“It’s a tough deal,” Estelle said. “Anyone can get you. Kilgore is really good. Trinity Valley is good. Angelina was really good.”
Navarro was better on Saturday. The Runnin’ Bulldogs did what they almost always do, getting contributions up and down the roster. Whether it was freshman center Jaleel Cousins setting the tone with two blocks in the first half or sophomore backup point guard Harrison Hawkins dishing out nine assists as he played major minutes at crunch time over starter Jonathan Benn.
Foster, an emerging freshman, and Onwas, a sophomore and the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, carried the offense. Foster scored back-to-back hoops on a drive and a putback after Angelina had cut the Navarro lead to 53-50. After Angelina’s Victor Mbachu made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 57-53, Lamark Barnes made 1 of 2 free throws and Onwas drained a 3-pointer for a 61-53 lead with 4:31 left in the game.
Foster, who scored 15 points in the second half, added another layup for a 63-53 lead with 3:49 left in the game.
“Our sophomores did a good job of leading today,” Estelle said. “Our freshmen like Toney and Jamar (Goodwin) and Jaleel are coming along and earning a right to play.”
Navarro opened the game with a 15-5 lead, but Angelina responded. The Roadrunners took their second and last lead of the game at 17-15 on a baseline jumper by Jaylen Daniel. Navarro responded with seven straight points with Jamar Goodwin making two free throws and Onwas converting a three-point play to get the lead back for good.
Early in the second half, Foster had a dunk and a three-point play and Onwas also slammed one home as Navarro built its largest lead of the game a 49-37 with 13:47 left in the game.
The Bulldogs weren’t able to close out the game exactly how Estelle wanted them to — a few turnovers led to easy Angelina baskets — but on the whole, it was a strong performance.
“It was a good collective effort,” Estelle said.
Navarro 74, Angelina 70
Angelina 30 40 — 70
Navarro 34 34 — 74
Angelina — Victor Mbachu 10, Quentin Ellis 9, Jaylen Daniel 25, Donald Thomas II 1, Thaddeus Fortune 3, LaDerrien Jackson 6, Jamie Farrie Jr. 12, LeMon Gregory 4.
Navarro — Harrison Hawkns 3, Shannon Lilly 3, Princeton Onwas 20, David Woodard 5, Toney Foster 21, Jamar Goodwin 5, Terrance Syon 6, Lamark Barnes 5, Justin Phillipe 2, Jaleel Cousins 4.
Records — Angelina 12-6, 5-2; Navarro 14-4, 6-1.