Ballinger boys basketball team drops Merkel in home finale

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Ballinger's Ian Gressett nails a short jump shot over a Merkel Badgers player who got caught flatfooted by the quick pull up.

The Ballinger Bearcats (20-4, 9-4) downed the Merkel Badgers (4-12, 2-6), 68-41 in a game that the Bearcats were never in danger of losing.

The Bearcats' Gavin Martinez, Dylan Hostetter, Jonathan Delgado, Ryan Elliott, Kenjrik Manley and the rest of the crew came to play. Eric Toliver, Ian Gressett, Andrew Delgado, Beau Perkins, and Josh Harrison all contributed in big ways. Even Tyler Vaughn, who is done for the season after shoulder surgery, got out on the floor during warmups to help motivate and support his teammates. Every player did their part, without fail.

Tyler Vaughn is out for the season after shoulder surgery. That didn't prevent him from being on the floor during warmups to show his support and motivate his teammates.

Ballinger let it be known right away that this was going to be a long night for the Badgers. The Bearcats started banging away on confident 3-point shots that repeatedly found the bottom of the net. Ballinger hit four of those three-point shots in a row to start the game.

The Bearcats sprinted out to a 17-5 lead just five minutes into the game. Merkel had some short runs but were never closer than a dozen points. Bearcats coach Jeff Holland unleashed the beasts, who responded better than many could have imagined in that first period. The Bearcats' Beast Mode was effective in every aspect of the game.

Merkel's defense couldn't keep up with the pace set by the Bearcats' offense. When Merkel did have the ball, the Bearcats defense stayed in front of them, not willing to give up any easy shots or yield any ground. Ballinger made Merkel earn every basket that it made.

Ballinger's Kenjrik Manley casually walks on air as he looks to make a pass on the baseline. Manley drew double and triple teams all night.

The second period went the same for the Bearcats as they increased their lead over the Badgers, 38-20. By halftime, the score was 43-23 as the Bearcats kept up the pressure on Merkel. The first half was high octane for Ballinger, on offense, defense and in transition. The Bearcats have shown all season that once they smell blood in the water they're going to feast. And, feast they did, on a hefty helping of 3-points shots throughout the first half of the game. Several of their jump shots were from just inside the arc, as they nailed shot after shot from every area of the court.

Ballinger's Ryan Elliott pulls up for a short jumper in front of 3 defenders. The Bearcats played in front of the Badgers' defense all night, winning 68-41.

The Bearcats came out of halftime just as they came out at tip-off — on fire. They knocked down several shots, extending their lead to 53-30, just halfway into the period. By the start of the fourth period, the game was sealed, barring a miracle comeback by the Badgers. Merkel had a short run, putting up seven points quickly, but Ballinger answered in kind. Ballinger took a 59-37 lead, and never looked back. The Bearcats didn't let up the pressure at all during the game, running away with the 68-41 victory.

Ballinger's Eric Toliver fakes a shot, drawing in 2  defenders as he dishes the ball to Josh Harrison (30). Harrison nailed the shot.

The game had a hefty dose of Kenjrik Manley, as the senior point guard's speed, agility and skill stumped defenders time and time again. When Manley wasn't taking the ball into the paint, he was pulling up for short jumpers. At times, when he took the ball into the paint, he passed it rather than going for the layup. Another trick Manley pulled out of his bag was a Euro step, which the Badgers had no defense for. The Badgers were stymied over and over again as Manley changed up his approach to keep Merkel off balance.

Merkel defenders were in the air when Ballinger's Eric Toliver passed the ball off to Josh Harrison (30). The play was flawless as you can see the smile on Toliver's face while the defenders were still in the air. Harrison also had a 3rd Badgers player to contend with, nailing the shot despite being 3-teamed.

It was never easy for the Badgers, who have had a tough season with only four wins on the board. Ballinger never let Merkel get close as they kept up an almost frenetic pace behind Manley and crew.

Ballinger's Josh Harrison was down the court in a flash after making a short jumper on the other end.

Ultimately, to their credit, the Badgers played a well-disciplined game. Teams tend to get into foul trouble quickly when outmanned and outgunned, but the Badgers stayed within their zone, playing a clean game from start to finish.

The Bearcats' Kenjrik Manley uses his speed and quickness to cut between two Badgers defenders. His move was so quick that the defenders didn't have time to react and ultimately (and inadvertently) tripped him. It was one of the few fouls on the Badgers, who played a clean game in spite of being behind from the tip off.

This was the second Ballinger victory over Merkel this season. On Jan. 15, the Bearcats defeated the Badgers, 71-43, in Merkel. The location of the game has little effect on a Bearcats team that is 11-1 at home and 9-3 away.

This season coach Holland has led a team who have answered every call. They were unbeaten during nondistrict play. The four losses have all been close, with the exception of the Feb. 5 game against Wall, which was a two-point game heading into the fourth quarter before Wall won by 14. The Bearcats have split games with Jim Ned and TLCA while dropping both contests against Wall.