SALADO — Since Kenny Mann arrived at Salado to lead the Eagles basketball team, he has guided each team through the annual Coach Smith Memorial Tournament.
On Saturday night, this year’s group finally won the championship.
“It’s long overdue,” Mann admitted after Salado went undefeated in the three-day competition with a 50-45 win over Corpus Christi Flour Bluff.
“We’ve had some great teams here in Salado and this is such a tough tournament that we’ve gotten to the championship many times and we’ve fallen just a little short with some really good teams.
“So I’m really proud of this group right now because they’re playing so hard.”
After senior Sammy Brown found junior Cade Scallin waiting under the rim for a layup, the Eagles started the fourth quarter ahead by just two points.
In the last eight minutes of play, the Hornets tied the game another three times and briefly took back the lead.
But Salado never wavered in its pursuit of the title. They went on a 6-0 run in the last two minutes to secure the victory.
“They’re all very unselfish,” Mann said of his team. And while Flour Bluff had a key post player out with an injury, the longtime coach was glad that his team was able to execute the game plan.
“I had guards who don’t usually post up that took their guy down, posted up and scored on their guy,” he noted. “They’re winners and they’re competitors, and they just went and did what they had to do.”
Jeremy Jarvis led the Eagles with seven rebounds, four assists and six points. The senior forward admitted that taking the tournament title was a historic moment made sweeter by the fact that this team achieved it.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and this is the best team I’ve ever played on,” said Jarvis.
“We’re playing the best basketball we’ve played all season and it feels great to do it.
“I love this team and I’m looking forward to what we’re going to do.”
Mann also savored his first tournament win considering the Hornets are led by his longtime friend coach Jamie Boswell.
“It was fun,” admitted Mann. “We love each other and we’ve been best friends for 20-something years, but we hate to lose to each other at the same time, so I really didn’t want to lose to him.”
The Eagles knew the importance of this game heading into the matchup as Mann’s pregame speech stuck with Eli Pittman the entire time.
“Coach Mann told us before the game that Salado hadn’t won this tournament since 1994, so it feels good to be the first team to do that,” Pittman noted.
Looking to help his team make history, the junior point guard cut Flour Bluff’s lead to just three points behind a fadeaway jump shot at the buzzer to close out the first quarter.
Down late in the first half, Jarvis found Pittman in the corner for a clean 3-pointer that pulled the Eagles within one, 23-22.
The young guard found his comfort zone in the left corner as he dropped eight of his 12 total 3-pointers in tournament from that same spot.
That confidence from the outside comes from the faith Pittman has in the work he put in during the offseason.
“I just have to trust it and I know shots will fall when I take them.”
As the clock ran down, Brown added a 3-point bomb of his own to give Salado its first lead, 26-24, heading into the halftime break.
It was a tight race to the end, but the Eagles defense held off the Hornets long enough to seal the victory to the pleasure of a large Salado crowd.
“It’s fantastic, I love hearing the crowd when the students come and support us,” senior Zack Shaver said. “Especially on a weekend like this when there’s stuff going on outside of school. It’s always great to have a full crowd.”
And while the goal of every tournament is to win, the host team claiming the title has the Eagles confidence riding high.
“We’re on an eight-game win streak and we haven’t had this great of a start in a long time,” said Pittman. “Usually we’re one-and-done in this tournament, so it should really help us heading into district play.”
Salado has two more tournaments before they open District 27-4A competition at Liberty Hill in January. Until then, Mann is keeping to his season goal of enjoying the victories.
“I look forward to every game we play and every practice we practice,” he said. “I take it one day at a time, to be honest with you, so I’m going to try and enjoy the ride instead of looking for what I want to happen because this is a unique group and they’re fun to be with every day.
“I don’t want to miss this experience looking at what are we going to do in the future, so I’m going to try to enjoy every day with them that I can.”
SATURDAY’S BOYS BASKETBALL
- TAPPS 4A No. 4 Lubbock Trinity Christian 60, Lampasas 35
Corpus Christi Coaches Association Tournament
- Harker Heights 44, CC Ray 27
Mansfield ISD tournament
- No. 1 Denton Guyer 63, No. 17 Shoemaker 60
Marble Falls Subway Classic
- Hutto 69, Copperas Cove 59
Salado Coach Smith Tournament
Salado 50, CC Flour Bluff 45
- Gatesville 54, 2A-No. 9 Thorndale 49
South San Antonio ISD tournament
- Killeen 52, Keller Central 49