SALADO — The Salado Eagles soared to their first championship appearance in the Coach Smith Memorial Tournament with a 75-43 win against Caldwell on Friday afternoon.
The young Salado team is off to a 6-1 start behind 10 returning varsity members.
“It helps a lot,” admitted coach Kyle Mann. “Last year I had a lot of sophomores, and they were really good, but they were sophomores, and just this year of maturity has made a great difference in those guys.
“Mentally and physically, they’re just playing the game better than they did last year, and having that year of varsity experience really helped a lot.”
The Eagles have another answer for their strong start — team chemistry.
“Last year there were a lot of groups,” said sophomore forward Peyton Miller. “We didn’t play as one, and this year we’re more together.”
Salado has found its stride in the tournament as Miller had 11 assists, three blocks and three steals against the Hornets (1-4) on Friday.
Miller started the game moving the ball up the court and to the basket before kicking the ball back out to Zack Shaver at the top of the key for a jump hot that put the Eagles ahead 6-3.
Miller regained possession with a steal and moved his way up the sideline before finding Jeremy Jarvis, who added to the lead with a hook shot.
Salado was ahead 20-16 when Miller moved the ball up the court and found Eli Pittman open in the right corner.
Pittman dribbled up the baseline for a layup and drew a foul that secured an 11-point cushion for the Eagles.
Caldwell tried to work past Salado, but Pittman picked off a pass and sprinted up the left sideline before finding Jarvis waiting to his right on the outside to push the Eagles ahead 32-16.
Salado led 43-28 at halftime.
“Last year, I thought we played hard, but we didn’t sell out,” said Mann. “I feel like we’re going into games and we’re selling out on the floor, and it’s making a big difference in the outcome of big games.”
Jarvis started the second half for the Eagles with a bounce pass to Shaver waiting under the rim for a layup.
Jarvis made a hook shot in the middle of the third period that put the Eagles up 49-32.
The Hornets fought back with a 3-pointer from junior guard Bobby LaRouax, but the Eagles started the fourth quarter with an 18-point lead, 58-40.
Salado held Caldwell to just three points in the fourth quarter and used a 15-0 run to finish the victory.
“We just share the ball and work together as a team,” said Miller. “And we’re out here winning games with 70-plus points.”
Despite a morning victory over McGregor, the Salado Lady Eagles fell to West and were eliminated from the championship bracket.
Salado’s girls play a consolation game at 9 a.m. against Hutto. The Salado boys face Corpus Christi Flour Bluff tonight at 5 p.m. in the championship game.
SALADO 75, CALDWELL 43
At Salado Coach Smith Tournament
Parks 5, Davis 0, Stefka 8, Menchaca 0, LeRouax 6, Day 0, Iliff 2, Whitfield 4, Aly 0, Williams 7, Ellis 0, Mathis 7, Richmond 4, Condon 0.
Pittman 12, Roche 10, Meyer 0, Scallin 2, Miller 6, R.Brown 5, S.Brown 2, Jarvis 16, Shaver 17, Eschmann 5.
Caldwell 16 12 12 3—43
Salado 20 23 15 17—75
3-Point Goals—Caldwell 5 (Stefka 2, LeRouax 2, Williams), Salado 3 (Pittman 2, Jarvis). Free throws—Caldwell 2-6, Salado 18-31. Fouled Out—Shaver. Total Fouls—Caldwell 20, Salado 12. Technicals—None.
Records—Caldwell 1-4, Salado 6-1.
FRIDAY’S BOYS BASKETBALL
- Lampasas 53, Junction 45
Corpus Christi Coaches Association Tournament
- Harker Heights 48, New Braunfels 36
Georgetown Jack Frost Tournament
- No. 5 Lake Travis 66, Belton 45
- Leander 56, Belton 54
- Rogers 49, Florence 38
Mansfield ISD tournament
- No. 17 Shoemaker 58, 5A-No. 3 Alvin Shadow Creek 54
- Sulphur Springs 59, Ellison 55, OT
- Ellison 55, EP Burges 50
- No. 9 North Crowley 54, No. 17 Shoemaker 36
Marble Falls Subway Classic
- Copperas Cove 63, Leander Glenn 50
- Copperas Cove 72, 4A-No. 6 Liberty Hill 56
Salado Coach Smith Tournament
- Salado 75, Caldwell 43
- Gatesville 65, Jarrell 59
South San Antonio ISD tournament
- Killeen 75, EP Bowie 60
- 4A-No. 15 Dallas Faith Family 74, Killeen 65
FRIDAY’S GIRLS BASKETBALL
- No. 15 Lampasas 56, Austin Travis 22
Georgetown Jack Frost Tournament
- FW Trimble Tech 41, Belton 35
- Killeen 69, Austin Akins 34
Glen Rose tournament
- No. 22 Gatesville 57, Pilot Point 22
- No. 22 Gatesville 51, Joshua 33
- EP Andress 49, Ellison 37
- Ellison 44, 5A-No. 19 Richmond Foster 35