By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Maybe the Navarro Runnin’ Bulldogs will be ranked now.
They have to be.
That after unranked Navarro came up with a statement win Wednesday night, dominating No. 18 Kilgore for a 69-59 victory in front of a raucous crowd at the K. and Ida Wolens Special Events Center.
Navarro led by as much as 19 points and withstood a late run by the Rangers that saw the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ lead get cut to seven points with 1:41 left in the game.
Navarro won three days after Runnin’ Bulldogs head coach Johnny Estelle and his wife Ana had a baby boy on Sunday. The Runnin’ Bulldogs came out with an intensity that said they wanted to win this game for their coach and his new son Jayden.
They also played with a chip on their shoulder, maybe feeling disrespected by the NJCAA pollsters even though Navarro had won 14 of 15 games coming into Wednesday night.
Asked if Navarro would be ranked now, Estelle had a short response.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Navarro (18-4, 10-1) doesn’t care much for rankings, instead focusing on the Region XIV standings. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a two-game lead on Tyler (16-4, 8-3) and a 2 1/2 game lead on Kilgore (18-4, 8-4) in the East Zone. Navarro plays at Tyler on Saturday and a win would great major separation from the rest of the conference.
Navarro set the tone Wednesday night with defense as Kilgore made only three shots in the first half. In a tightly called game, the Bulldogs put the Rangers on the line constantly and it worked out.
It was the only frustrating part of Wednesday’s game. The officials called 63 fouls, 37 of them on Navarro. Kilgore shot 50 free throws — on the road — and made only 31 of them.
“They’re a physical team,” Estelle said. “That’s our identity, playing tough defense. I know the crowd likes offense. I like to score points. But it’s all about being a tough team. Playing good defense makes it tough.”
Navarro led 36-19 at halftime and was able to keep Kilgore at bay with acrobatic dunks from Toney Foster and Duan Wright and with two deadly 3-pointers by point guard Hunter Hawkins that gave Navarro a 62-43 lead with 5:12 left in the game.
Kilgore did score 12 straight points to force Navarro to put the game away at the line. The Bulldogs made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to salt away the win.
Hawkins had 16 points. Foster had 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Jonathan Benn had four points, five rebounds and five assists.
Navarro continued to own their home floor, where the Bulldogs are 10-2 on the season. Estelle also got a huge assist from assistant coaches Eric Colbert and Brian Crawford, who held things together in these days since the birth of his son.
“We have the best home crowd in the conference,” Estelle said. “They were great tonight. And my assistants, Eric Colbert and Brian Crawford, they did a great job of preparing us. Jayden’s birth could have thrown us off rhythm. But I felt a peace about tonight’s game.”
Navarro 69, Kilgore 59
Kilgore 19 40 — 59
Navarro 36 33 — 69
Kilgore — Lonnie McClanahan 17, Quinton Upshur 9, Chinedu Amajoyi 9, Tanodrio Bogues 4, Maurice Taylor 13, Kalif Wright 2, Mathieu Gamberoni 3, Eick Diouf 2.
Navarro — Harrison Hawkins 16, Shannon Lilly 3, Jonathan Benn 4, Princeton Onwas 3, David Woodard 8, Toney Foster 10, Duan Wright 3, Jamar Goodwin 9, Terrance Syon 5, Lamark Barnes 6, Justin Phillipe 2.
Records — Kilgore 18-4, 8-4; Navarro 18-4, 10-1.