By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Kerens and Frost will be on the same stage Friday, both playing in the regional tournament at Tyler Junior College. Kerens in Class 1A Division, Frost in 1A Division II.
The two teams you’ll see carry a common denominator — they’ve taken on the personalities of their coaches.
The Bobcats, while intense, are calm and collected, especially at the end of games, just like their coach, Don Enis.
The Polar Bears are hard-nosed and tough, just like their coach, Eric Blenden.
Character carried both teams in their regional quarterfinal victories on Tuesday night.
Kerens never panicked despite being down 45-37 with 1:50 left in the third quarter. The Bobcats up to that point had seemed a little sluggish, weren’t winning the 50-50 balls and were relying too much on two guys to score, Nate Betts and Tobyus Thomas.
Reserve point guard Brandon Ward changed that. His 3-pointer cut LaPoynor’s lead to five and Thomas’ 3-pointer as the third-quarter horn sounded tied the game at 47-47.
Another bench player, Dustin Jock, hit a 3-pointer to give Kerens a 52-47 lift early in the fourth quarter, another huge lift and another example of how the Bobcats as a team don’t blink, and that has to go back to Enis’ even-keeled demeanor.
Of course, it shined through most in the final six seconds of Tuesday’s game with Kerens and LaPoyner tied at 57-57. The Flyers were playing great — it was going to take a big play under pressure to beat them.
The Bobcats produced it. Tobyus was trapped in the corner, so much so that Enis came close to using his final timeout as the clock ticked under seven seconds.
“I was ready to call the timeout,” Enis said. “But then Tobyus dribbled out of trouble and found KT.”
KT is Kevin Townsel, the Bobcats’ senior point guard, who like so many of his teammates won four playoff games last year and made it to the school’s first state tournament.
Not only did Townsel do a great job getting open on a back cut, he made a great decision, with three seconds left, of passing the ball instead of shooting it.
“I was worried my shot might get blocked,” said the 5-9 Townsel said.
Townsel, in his team’s most pressure-filled moment of the season, dumped the ball off to 6-2 Nate Betts, who was poised for any easy layup. LaPoynor had no choice but to foul Betts, an excellent leaper.
The rest is well documented. Betts calmly made two free throws with 1.7 seconds left, sending Kerens on to the regional semifinals.
Frost advanced to regionals because the Polar Bears used their style of play, lock-down defense, which focuses back on Blenden’s tough, hard-nosed style, to take control of the game in the third quarter.
Trailing 24-21 at the half, Frost went on 15-2 run to start the third quarter. Huckabay, a team that had lost four games and scored 75 points in the area round, scored a basket in five minutes.
For the game, Huckabay scored 44 points. The goal Blenden gave his team before the game? Hold Huckabay to 45 points or less, and we win. Looks like the Polar Bears went with less.
I guess it should come as no surprise. Blenden has the magic touch this year. Someone help me remember the last time a head coach took his team four rounds deep in the playoffs in football and basketball.
This is unreal. And the players deserve a lot of the credit. It’s basically the same group. Danial Steels was always a good player, but he’s a dominant player now. He’s put up 21 and 27 points in two playoff games.
Stroder. Worley. Bruce. Jackson. Clayton. Worley. And on and on and on. All of these guys have contributed big moments in both football and basketball.
But it’s that edge that Blenden has, combined with the calmness that Clark Moore brought before him, that has made these Polar Bears believe they can win on any night, anywhere.
Think back to football. The only thing that stopped Frost against Tenaha was one fluke play that wouldn’t happen the next 99 times the Polar Bears tried to push one in from 2 yards out.
The story of this Golden Circle sports season, without a doubt, is that a group of kids in Frost that they’ll fight like heck for a win, and they’ll get it most of the time.
It’s something their counterparts at Kerens know all too well, make three regional tournaments in a row.
When you believe you can do it, when you learn to handle the pressure, good things tend to happen.
It’s exactly why the basketball seasons in Kerens and Frost will continue on Friday in Tyler.
Region III-1A DI Semifinal
Kerens (23-7) vs. San Augustine
Noon, Friday, Tyler Junior College
Road in Playoffs — Kerens, bi-district, def. Big Sandy, 80-72, area round, def. Waco Rapoport, 54-51, regional quarterfinal, def. LaPoynor 59-57; San Augustine, bi-district, first-round bye, area round, def. Joaquin, 84-44, regional quarterfinal, def. New Summerfield, 69-57.
Notable: San Augustine produced a huge fourth-quarter comeback Tuesday night, outscoring New Summerfield 27-10 in the fourth quarter ... Jarvis Smith led the Wolves with 12 points and 20 rebounds ... San Augustine’s Dezmond Randle scored a team-high 18 points, while Bobby Tanner added 16 points ... Kerens’ Nate Betts is averaging 26 points per game in three playoff games ... the Bobcats’ bench produced 13 points in the win over LaPoyner.
Region III-1A DII Semifinal
Frost (17-6) vs. Bellevue
5 p.m., Friday, Tyler Junior College
Road in Playoffs — Frost, first-round bye; area round, def. Blum, 55-29, regional quarterfinal, def. Huckabay, 49-44; Bellevue, bi-district, first-round bye, area round, def. Avinger, 51-36, regional quarterfinal, def. Ector, 69-50.
Notable: Bellevue led Ector 25-23 at halftime before blowing the game open with a 20-point third quarter ... Brandt Cassetty led the Eagles with 20 points ... Frost also used a third-quarter run to come back against Huckabay ... Danial Steels is averaging 24 points per game in the playoffs ... Frost has made the regional tournament for the 10th time in school history.