By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – The two faces of Hays High School basketball appeared last weekend at their annual Rebel Classic, which often ratifies the girls team on its way to a district championship while demonstrating that the boys team will struggle for a playoff berth.
Their reasons are as regular as the changing of the seasons.
Once again, the Hays girls are honing an orientation to defense that can change opponents when it’s done right. They’re learning it from Donny McDonald, the long-time Hays coach who varies the scheme slightly depending on who’s available. The boys team is merely trying to learn some brand new defensive scheme, their third in three years. The Rebels are trying anew under San Marcos High graduate Kris Fuller. their third coach in six years.
Inevitably, then, the Rebel Classic finds the girls team trying to work its game up a notch for the district season that starts later this month, while the boys team is trying to learn who goes where before its district season began in January. The girls team measures itself at the Rebel Classic, while the boys team practices.
The girls team finished second in their tournament Saturday afternoon, turning a respectable performance in a 67-57 championship game loss to Pflugerville, which is ranked No.16 in Class 5A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC). A bigger, faster and more athletic team that Hays, Pflugerville simply was a cut too quick and too sharp for the Hays defense, which isn’t accustomed to allowing so many points.
The Rebels frustrated Pflugerville with fullcourt pressure for the first six minutes of the game, but that was before the Pflugerville pressure turned up the decisive stretch. After the Rebels stayed within 15-13, Pflugerville crossed the quarter mark ahead 22-13, then extended it out to 31-17. But after that, the game evened out again and, if the Rebels didn’t make a serious bid to win, neither was Pflugerville able to truly put the game away.
“At least we played good,” McDonald said. “I was worried about how we were going to come out. They never got too far ahead of us.”
McDonald actually sounded more pleased with the loss to Pflugerville than with previous wins in the tournament against Alamo Heights, Thorndale and Vista Ridge. But even those wins showed the soundness of the Hays approach.
A 48-43 win against Weimar, ranked No. 13 in Class 2A, came slightly enough open at the end of the third quarter, when Ashley Magallanez and Shelby Calabrese scored off pressure to change a 32-30 lead to 36-30, just enough of a crack for the Rebels to walk through.
Next, the Rebels trailed, 32-22, midway through the semifinal third quarter against Vista Ridge before pressure changed another game. The Rebels outscored Vista Ridge, 28-7, the rest of the way in a 50-40 win. A flurry of turnovers put Hays on a 12-1 run for a 34-33 lead with 1:50 left in the third quarter after Ashley Rankine made a layup off a steal and hit the free throw for being fouled. The turnovers continued in favor of Hays, which sailed to the finish.
Though slow starts plagued Hays in both those wins, McDonald’s waves of ten players going in for pressure defense produced the desired outcomes. Right around the middle of the second half, the opposition might be expected to crack a little.
“That’s the theory,” McDonald said. “But in the first half, we’re so poor at executing our stuff. It’s frustrating.”
It’s likely, though, that the majority of Hays opponents will be more frustrated. The Rebels are 15-2 now, presumably a good enough team to win District 17-4A. Once the playoffs begin, the Rebels will go as far as defense takes them.
Fuller is trying to reach his Hays boys team with the same message, but that’s a lot easier said than done when the coach is installing a new defense. Fuller is bringing a patterned approach back to Hays, where former coach Doug Agnew decided to throw caution to the wind last year and play a running style. Agnew figured it couldn’t hurt anything, and at least the players might have fun. Agnew resigned after last season to take up an administrative career track.
The new version of Hays basketball is going to rely on ball movement and sit down defense, led by senior point guard Ed Franco, senior center Vince Sorrells and junior swingman Sam Breyogle, who is working everywhere from point to post. Whoever plays for the Rebels, they’re not going to outscore opposition, so they will have to break some old habits.
Following a 71-46 loss to Stony Point, the Rebels showed more specifically how they might improve in a 67-60 loss to Smithson Valley. Consistently in the second half, Smithson Valley cut up the Hays interior defense for layups on its way to a 57-45 lead.
The Rebels mounted a furious comeback. After Franco fed Sorrells for a layup, he made a steal and took his own layup, bringing Hays to a 58-58 tie with 2:08 left. But Smithson Valley made the plays and the free throws down the stretch.
“A lot of (the defensive half-court trouble) is getting used to a new system,” Fuller said. “They have a little more to learn as far as the half-court defense. Last year, they played the running style and it’s okay to give up a layup. But it’s not okay to give up a layup the way we’re trying to play.”
With two pool losses in as many games, the Rebels moved on to the “bronze bracket,” where they opened with a 42-27 win against an outmanned operation from Copperas Cove. Against San Antonio Lee in the bronze bracket championship game, the Rebels ran into Paul Garnica, a 5-11 junior rated as one of the best guards in the Alamo City. Garnica destroyed Hays with 13 three-point baskets on his way to 49 points before going to the bench with five minutes left in the game.
“We tried everything,” Fuller said. “We ran two guys at him, threw a hand in his face. Sometimes, you just have to give the other guy credit.”
Lee trounced the Rebels, 84-48, bringing the home team to three losses in its four tournament games and lowering its record to 4-5. Next up, the Rebels play at home against Seguin Tuesday night.
“We’re trying to get ready for January 2,” said Fuller, referencing the start of the District 17-4A season.
Joining the Rebels in District 17-4A is San Marcos, which is 8-5 after splitting its for tournament games. The Rattlers played in the silver bracket, where they ultimately took a 55-39 loss against San Antonio Stevens, ranked No. 9 in Class 5A.
The Rattlers split their two pool games, first losing to Round Rock McNeil, 46-32. Cameron Austin scored 14 for San Marcos, but his free throw in the third period was the only San Marcos point in that frame as McNeil extended a 28-24 halftime lead to 37-25. The Rattlers came back with a 55-46 win against Copperas Cove, behind 14 points from Aaron Canady, to qualify for the silver bracket.
San Marcos then prevailed against Smithson Valley, 52-39, with Canady scoring 12 and Austin adding 11. But they couldn’t later match Stevens’ firepower.
“The speed difference at which we were playing was a big deal,” San Marcos coach Rob Shivers said about the Stevens game. “Guys were trying to make plays for us at a speed where we can’t make them. But I was glad we came out and played hard.”
The San Marcos girls team also turned in a 2-2 performance at the Rebel Classic, running its record for the season to 12-7. After losing the tournament opener to Round Rock, the Rattlers came back with a victory against New Braunfels Canyon in the first round of the loser’s bracket. After Pflugerville Hendrickson banished San Marcos to the seventh-place game with a 50-42 result, the Rattlers beat Bastrop, 64-35.
The Rebels Classic may not have told us much about what to expect in the District 17-4A basketball races, but the San Marcos and Hays teams now have seen each other, and they’ll see more of each other. For the first time since 2003, the two largest Hays County high schools will be in the same district.