By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Navarro has basically been atop the Region XIV basketball standings for three months now. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a chance to lead this race wire-to-wire.
They’re like a prize fighter who’s won the first 14 of 15 scheduled rounds. And now it’s time to finish the opponent off.
Navarro (22-5, 14-2) can win the regular season conference title on Saturday at Kilgore against the No. 20-ranked Rangers (23-4, 13-4) in a 4 p.m. showdown.
That’s right — Kilgore is ranked and Navarro isn’t, despite a 69-59 Runnin’ Bulldogs win back on Feb. 2. But that’s another story.
The bigger one is about finishing things off. Navarro coach Johnny Estelle wants to see his team close out the deal and clinch a berth in the NJCAA National Tournament.
“We’ve done a great job up to this point,” Estelle said. “We have to prepare for this moment. You’re only as good as your last game.”
So he’s warned his team all week about not letting its guard down with three tough games left against Kilgore, Tyler and Trinity Valley, the three teams behind Navarro in the East standings.
Estelle, a huge boxing fan, has used December’s Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight as a reference point.
If you haven’t seen the bout — even if you’re not a boxing fan — you should find a way to see the replay. Watching it live was one of those monumental sports moments.
In the fight, the fourth between the two, Pacquiao was ahead on most unofficial scorecards. He was mostly in control. For the first two minutes, 50 seconds of the sixth round, he was getting the better of Marquez and seemed to be gaining momentum.
Then, in a heartbeat, everything change. Pacquiao let his guard down, and Marquez floored him with one of the most powerful right hands in boxing history. Pacquiao was out cold and the title was lost.
Estelle doesn’t want that to happen to Navarro. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have come all this way, in front in a difficult conference race, and he doesn’t want to see them give it up.
“I don’t want them to lose focus and not get the prize,” Estelle said.
Navarro dominated the first game against Kilgore, leading by as much as 19 points in the second half. Point guard Harrison Hawkins had 16 points to lead the way.
The game was disrupted flow wise by 63 fouls whistled, 36 of them on Navarro. Kilgore shot 51 free throws, several late in the second half to help the Rangers close the gap.
Navarro has won four straight games since an overtime loss at Tyler and 19 out of 21 overall. Kilgore has won five straight games by an average of 13.6 points since losing at Navarro.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs will be playing to clinch. The Rangers to stay alive. It makes for the showdown of the year in Region XIV.
“It’s going to be sophomore night for them,” Estelle said. “Both teams still have to play the game. This is like a tournament game for us. We’ve told our team that.”