With all area high-school basketball teams deep into their district schedules, the playoff contenders have started to rise to the surface.
In summary – the Navarro boys and Marion girls seem to be virtual locks to make the post-season, and are currently in the driver’s seats to win their respective district championships. The Navarro girls have three district losses, but will have chances to avenge close defeats to Karnes City and Nixon-Smiley in the coming weeks, so they’re still in the picture. The Marion boys have to put a serious rally together to get in, and both Seguin teams are out of contention.
I want to talk about the Navarro boys, since I just saw them dismantle Karnes City 63-41 on Friday. This was a close game at halftime, but the Panthers tightened the screws on the Badgers defensively in the second half, Zach Hernandez found his shooting touch, and it turned into a blowout quickly. In fact, Navarro coach Bob Ermel said after the game that his team turned in “the best defensive effort since I’ve been at Navarro” in the second half.
Coach Ermel once again has a nice blend of size and athleticism to throw at opponents. The Panthers lost two skilled big men in Clayton Warren and Wes Ply off last year’s team that went two rounds deep in the playoffs, but the improvement of the returning players and their replacements has mostly made up for those losses.
Of course, it all starts with Hernandez, who continues to be a scoring machine and also has remarkable court vision – he can thread the needle with no-look passes in transition or in a half-court set. Forward A.K. Williams, always smooth and athletic, has added bulk to his frame and mixes a nice mid-range jumper with his ability to attack the rim. His ball-handling skills have improved, so he’s a tough matchup for anybody assigned to guard him. Will Valdez continues to be Will Valdez – a rock-solid, athletic defensive stopper who can run the floor, finish the fast-break, and make smart decisions with the ball. The new additions to the starting lineup – Tyler O’Brien and Cameron Kallies – are both strong, physical defenders in the paint, and Kallies is a force on the backboards. He’s just one of those players who has a natural instinct for rebounding – does a great job putting a body on his man and going after the ball, and he’s got great hands. Once Kallies corrals a rebound, it isn’t getting stripped away by another player.
So we’re talking about a team with a great point-guard and a surrounding cast of tall, versatile, athletic players at the other positions. They play hard, they share the ball, and they defend. Sounds like a team poised for a playoff run to me.