Bearcats bi-district champs; Lady Cats fall

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
The 2020-2021 Ballinger Bearcats hoisting the trophy for the Class 3A Region I Bi-district championship.

It was well known prior to the Ballinger vs Crane boys basketball playoff game that the Bearcats would have to perform at their very best if they wanted to bring home a bi-district championship. It's not mere hyperbole to say that the Bearcats may have exceeded expectations with their 39-32 defeat of the Golden Cranes in Sterling City.

Ballinger's motto on a shirt worn by the Bearcats' Eric Toliver.

Ballinger came in with a 21-4 record, while Crane came in with an 11-10 record. The Bearcats went 9-4 in district play. Crane's 11-10 record was not indicative of just how potent the Golden Eagles were, as they went 9-1 in district. This was a game that could bite the Bearcats if they were already looking beyond it. Head coach Jeff Holland wasn't going to allow that to happen.

Ballinger was favored, regardless of whether the game was high scoring or low scoring. The Beacats have held opponents to 39 points on average this season, while Crane has given up 48 points per game.

Ballinger's offense is just as potent as their defense. The team scored 56.8 points per game, while Crane scored 53.4 points on average during the regular season They improved that average to 57.1 during district play.

The Bearcats' tenacious defense would be put on trial against a strong Golden Cranes team. Ultimately, the Bearcats' defense prevailed. Defenders smothered Crane players as they brought the ball up court, never relenting, never giving up any ground without a battle.

Crane's Tavian Bustos #35, is bracketed by the Bearcats' Jonathan Delgado #10 and Ryan Elliott #12. The double team forced a turnover by the Crane Golden Cranes.

Ballinger's offense also answered the call, led by the 15 points of Jonathan Delgado. It was a shooting show for Deldago as he knocked down shots around the horn and in the paint. Delgado's scoring would contribute almost 40% of the overall total for the Bearcats.

The 1st period started with Crane jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Ballinger answered with a 3-pointer to take the lead as the teams put their plans into action. The game would go back and forth with the 1st period finishing knotted up 7-7. Interestingly, as hard as the game was being played, there were few fouls. There were just 3 fouls between both teams for the period.

Ballinger's Ryan Elliott #12 catches a pass over Crane's Tavian Bustos during the Bearcats 51-47 defeat of the Golden Cranes in the first round of the UIL playoffs.

In the 2nd period, Ballinger jumped out to an 11-7 lead, which Crane quickly caught up to, evening the score at 11 apiece. As testament to the defensive play of both teams, there was a time span of over 2 minutes where only one basket was hit, when Ballinger took a 13-11 lead. Crane tied the game shortly afterward, ending the scoring for the period with a 13-13 tie. For over 4 minutes during the period ,the teams combined for 2 baskets, total. Each team scored a scant 6 points during the 8 minutes of play. This game was going to come down to which team was in the best condition to grind out a win.

Ballinger's Kenjrik Manley makes Crane pay for double teaming him as he drives into the paint. Manley kicked out a beautiful, precise pass to an open teammate.

Ballinger came out in the 3rd period with their marksmen knocking down key shots. The open shots were the result of sharp passes. Kenjrik Manley put up 8 points during the game to go along with several steals. Manley drew double teams anytime he had the ball, which opened up other players he quickly found with precision passing. Several times, Manley took the ball into the paint to draw those double and triple teams before kicking the ball out to an open player.

Beau Perkins, Ryan Elliott, Delgado, Gavin Martinez, Dylan Hostetter and the rest of the sharpshooters made Crane pay for any lapse in coverage. The Golden Cranes did a commendable job in getting their hands up on defense, which had very little effect on Delgado as he put the game in his hip pocket.

In the 3rd period, the Bearcats, once again, came out strong, taking a 17-16 lead. They'd increase the lead to 22-16 before Crane got their feet under them to attempt a comeback. Crane took a short-lived 25-24 lead with 2:56 to go in the 3rd period. The period would end with the Bearcats regaining the lead, 27-25.

In the 4th period, Ballinger answered the Crane challenge with a flurry of shots, tiring of simply trading shot for shot as they jumped out to a 36-25 lead. Crane wasn't going to be dismissed easily as they started knocking down shots of their own. Crane would cut the lead to 38-32. That would be as close as they would get before falling 39-32 to the Bearcats.

Bearcats celebrate with a leap for a Kenjrik Manley team selfie.

To the credit of both teams, the game was played clean. With each team being potent on both offense and defense, players weren't committing fouls by getting beat to the basket or by poor execution. The defense was full court, with half-court becoming the DMZ, where each defense dug in to challenge the offense.

Ballinger is capable of trading shot for shot to take high scoring games as well as trading punch for punch in grinders. Manley penetrates deep into the paint while Delgado, Elliott, Martinez and Hostetter knock down jumpers. If Manley isn't double teamed, he simply takes the ball all of the way to the basket. The Bearcats have numerous weapons that can take the game over. For their opponents, it comes down to "choose your poison."

Ballinger will play No. 3-ranked Peaster High School (21-4, 12-2), a state semifinalist last year, in the area round at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Clyde.

Lady Cats fall to Coahoma, 51-47.

Ballinger's Emma Toliver #11, puts an end to any hope the Coahoma Lady Bulldogs' Julia Cox #3 had of making a short jumper. The Lady Bulldogs would defeat the Lady Cats 51-47 in a hard-fought contest.

The Lady Cats fell, 51-47, to Coahoma in their playoff opener in Sterling City on Friday. The game was marred by fouls, with play rarely getting up and down the court without a foul being called. In all, there were 39 fouls called in the game.

In the first period, the Lady Cats were called for 3 fouls, while the Bulldogettes were called for 7. Ballinger was in the bonus to start the 2nd period. Before long, Ballinger had racked up 6 more fouls, while Coahoma added 3 of their own. All in all, the teams combined for 19 fouls in the first half.

Ballinger's Dani Pena puts up an open jumper against the Coahoma Bulldogs. The Lady Cats would end up falling 51-47 in the first round of the UIL playoffs.

In spite of the constant stoppages, the game was played at a furious pace with the 1st period ending in a 13-13 tie. There were a total of 10 fouls in the first period, to go with the combined 26 points. Both teams were making every shot count as they fought up and down the hardwood.

The Lady Cats came into the 2nd period with a shooting onslaught, quickly jumping out to a 24-15 lead. Coahoma was giving Lady Cats' shooters space due to Ballinger being in the bonus. Once Coahoma adapted to the new game plan, the Lady Dogs answered quickly, putting up 10 points in 1 minute and 12 seconds, to bring the score to 27-25. Fouls were much the the same, with Ballinger being called for 3, while Coahoma was called for 7.

Ballinger's Cynthia Camarillo #12 takes a hard foul from Coahoma's Shea Lang #4 as the Lady Cats fell to the Lady Bulldogs, 41-47 in the first round of the UIL playoffs.

The Bulldogs quickly realized that they shouldn't give Ballinger shooting guard/forward Jenna Battle any space to take a shot. Battle is absolutely fearless when it comes to putting up shots. Ballinger's senior power forward Jewel Klaras gave Coahoma fits throughout the game. She was strong in the paint, forcing players to make hard contact to stop her.

Ballinger's Cynthia Camarillo #12 puts up a twisting shot against the Coahoma Lady Bulldogs during the first round of the UIL playoffs. Balliner fell 51-47.

The Lady Cats' sophomore point guard, Addison Martin, was able to force several Coahoma turnovers with her fast hands and quick feet. Center Chelsea Martinez powered into the paint time and time again, taking shots while punishing Coahoma players. Lady Cats shooting guard, Dani Pena, added to the power on the court, knocking down shots from every spot on the floor.

Ballinger's Jewel Klaras #10 is mauled from behind by the Coahoma Lady Bulldogs' Madison Rogers #11. A foul was called on the play. The game was marred by 39 called fouls.

The teams traded punches every second of that 2nd period, refusing to yield. Eventually, Ballinger took a 28-27 lead into halftime.

Ballinger's Jenna Battle #20 is fouled from behind on her way to the basket. Coahoma's Isabella Cox #14 fouled Battle as Madison Rogers #11 closes in from the front. The Coahoma Lady Dogs learned quickly that you can't give Battle an open shot, or half a step advantage without paying for it. Overall, there were 39 called fouls in the penalty-marred game.

There was not a lot of scoring in the 3rd period. The defenses of both teams had seemingly drawn a line in the sand. Ballinger scored 6 points, while Coahoma scored 5 points during the period. Shots that had been falling in the first half suddenly stopped. The teams made adjustments on the fly throughout the period as Ballinger carried a 34-32 lead into the 4th period.

Ballinger's Addison Martin #4 brings the ball down the court as she's being pursued by Coahoma's Madison Rogers #11. 
Martin is a sophomore with a bright future ahead in Lady Cats basketball. Martin's tenacity, coupled with quick feet, fast hands and constantly improving dribbling skills will prove frustrating for defenses over the next 2 years. Even as a sophomore she is a stalwart of a staunch Lady Cats team.

The 4th period made up for the lack of scoring in the 3rd period. Both squads came out with their guns blazing in what turned out to be a sprint to the final buzzer.

Ballinger put up 13 points, while Coahoma put up 19 points with each team keeping up a frantic pace when they had the ball. There were few layups throughout the game, particularly in the 4th period. Defenders from both teams did a solid job of getting into the paint to block out the offenses. There wasn't a basket made that wasn't earned. The key came down to passing. Open shots were critical and hard to come by with the defenses playing with high energy. Both teams put up shot after shot throughout the period.

When that final buzzer sounded, Coahoma took home a 51-47 win.

By the end of the 4th period, Ballinger and Crane had committed 10 fouls apiece, bringing the total to 20 for the period and 39 for the game.

The teams performed exceptionally well given the challenge of overcoming foul trouble that prevented and momentum. The exception was one good run by the Lady Cats. Other than that, it was a trip, or two if they were lucky, up the court followed by a foul of some sort. While the fouls were numerous, they were called uniformly on both teams.

The Lady Cats have a bright future with sophomores Addison Martin, Skyla Hostetter, Mikayla Gonzalez and Brianna Herrera, as well as juniors Emma Toliver and Jenna Battle getting another year of experience under their belts. The team will lose a lot of talent with the graduation of six seniors, but the girls leave behind a legacy of toughness and determination.