The Bandera varsity boys basketball team recorded its first playoff win since 2013-2014 last week and reached the 20-win mark for the second consecutive season in the process.
The Bulldogs defeated Cuero 72-62 Feb. 20 in a thrilling, back-and-forth game in front of a packed crowd on the Bandera side.
It was the program’s first playoff win since a 40-39 win over La Vernia in 2013-14 and pushed Bandera onto the area round for a matchup against El Campo Friday night.
The Bulldogs hung with the Ricebirds for the majority of the first three quarters Friday night but struggled to match their shooting effort from the first round as El Campo eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter. The Ricebirds defeated Bandera 59-43 to advance to the regional quarterfinals against No. 9 ranked Stafford.
The Bulldogs finish the year 20-16 as Bi-District Champions and Area Finalists for the first time in nearly a decade.
While it was a disappointing end to a tremendous season, the Bulldogs have plenty to be proud of in what was a historic year for the boys basketball program.
Bandera hoisted a gold-ball trophy for the first time since 2013-2014, defeated a Class 6A program for the first time in school history (48-44 over Edinburg) and finished with a winning record in district play (7-5) for the first time since 2014-2015. Bandera also finished with backto- back 20-win seasons for just the second time since 2013-2015.
“I’m extremely proud of our kids for achieving their goal of winning a playoff game this year,” said Coach Brady Keane. “It was the result of hundreds of hours of extra work in the off-season that most people aren’t aware of. These guys committed to getting in the gym all spring, summer and fall. They woke up before 6:00 am to get shots up before school during football season. They gave up weekends in the summer to play together. That hard work paid off and I’m so happy they got to experience that success together.”
Against Cuero, the trio of senior Kayden Brown, sophomore Eli Salas and junior Alex Dirck paved the way for the win. The Bulldogs knocked down 14 of 26 shots from long range to fuel their highest scoring output of the season.
Brown finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four steals while going 6-of-9 from the three-point line, and Salas chipped in 18 points, six assists and three rebounds while going 3-of-6 from long range and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line.
Dirck stepped up in a big way, posting a double-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. Junior Isaac Segura made huge contributions off the bench, contributing seven points and seven rebounds, while junior Cale Barnett had six points and three rebounds. Senior Gavin finished with six points and two steals, and senior Noah Barnett chipped in three points and three assists for the Bulldogs. Bandera led by as many as 19 points over Cuero in the second half before the Gobblers started to chip into the lead and make things close down the stretch. But clutch 3-point shots from Brown, Salas and Cale Barnett helped to seal the win. Bandera also went 8-of-11 from the free throw line while the Gobblers were 8-of-19 from the charity stripe.
“This was a special group that was alot of fun to be around, and I’ll always remember them for that. They will also always remember the support they got from our community – it was awesome to have such a packed gym for both of our playoff games, and it created an atmosphere that was a lot of fun to play in,” said Keane.
Friday was a different story offensively for the Bulldogs as El Campo’s size, speed and athleticism impacted Bandera’s ability to play comfortably on offense. The Bulldogs maintained pace in the first half and trailed by just three at the break, but turnovers and missed opportunities allowed the Ricebirds to build a larger lead late in the third quarter.
“We will miss this group of seniors a ton – a few of them battled through some severe injuries just to get back on their court with their teammates, and that says a lot about them. They set the tone for what it takes to be successful, and our underclassmen can look to that example as they continue in their high school careers,” said Keane. “I love these guys and can’t wait to see the success they have after graduating in the spring, and I’m looking forward to continuing to build on this foundation with our returning players.”
The Bulldogs will return two starters from this year’s team, sophomore Eli Salas and junior Alex Dirck, and have several rotational players returning next season.
Bandera’s JV team finished with a winning record at 12-11, and the freshmen team was just one game below .500 at 11-12, leaving plenty to look forward for the program.