There’s something about the Texas Panhandle that brings out the best in boys and girls basketball teams.
After Clarendon raced past Thorndale 59-35 Friday in a Class 2A boys state semifinal inside the Alamodome, Broncos players said they feel pressure to keep up with their high school’s girls team, which qualified for the postseason out of a district that included Panhandle, the eventual Class 2A state champion.
On Saturday, the Broncos boys will complete a Panhandle sweep of Class 2A basketball if they can knock off top-ranked Muenster.
On Friday, Clarendon center Marshall Johnson had 18 points and eight rebounds while forward Cameron Smith tallied 17 points and 12 boards in a surprisingly easy victory over the Bulldogs. The Broncos (32-2) built a 39-16 lead by halftime while improving their winning streak to 17 games.
Three teams from the Texas Panhandle — Nazareth, Canyon and Panhandle — claimed state championships at the UIL girls tournament last week. Johnson, a 6-foot-5 senior, hopes the Broncos add to the region’s tradition of basketball excellence with a victory Saturday.
“We have football, too, but we take basketball to heart,” he said.
Clarendon coach Brandt Lockhart estimated that the boys on his team had played roughly 200 games together since the sixth grade.
“I coached in the Metroplex, and there are a lot of great teams, but there’s a lot of things to do there, too,” Lockhart said. “In the Panhandle, there’s not as many things to do, so we strive on playing basketball.”
Thorndale (27-10) watched its hopes of claiming a third state title vanish quickly. Clarendon outscored the Bulldogs 25-6 in the second quarter and never looked back.
Point guard Ty Prince, a 6-6 junior and Thorndale’s leading scorer with an average of 16 points a game, was held to six points Friday. Sophomore forward Sam Reaves led the Bulldogs with seven points, down from his season average of 14.
Thorndale shot 31.3 percent from the field and was outrebounded 39-32. Clarendon’s 13 offensive boards gave the Broncos several second-chance opportunities.
“Our theme is to always give someone one shot,” Thorndale coach John Kovar said. “If it goes in, we’ll just give them a high-five after the game, but if it doesn’t, we’re getting every other rebound. … The ball just didn’t go in the basket the way it has in the previous five basketball games.”
Thorndale took its only lead of the game at 10-9 after a bucket by guard Ashton Albert with 3 minutes, 10 seconds to play in the first quarter. But Clarendon outscored Thorndale 30-6 for the remainder of the first half.
While there are “no guarantees” in basketball, Kovar said, he’s optimistic his young team will be back at state in 2018. Like Prince, Albert and Logan Fisher are juniors.
Friday’s state semifinal, though, was the final high school game for three Thorndale seniors — guard Ruben Briones and forwards Josh Iselt and Ryan Biar.
Despite the loss, all three can say they were a part of a program that sent teams to state in back-to-back seasons.
“We’re like one big family in Thorndale,” Briones said. “Being part of both of these teams has been amazing.”