SALADO — On the final day of the Coach Smith Memorial Basketball Tournament, the Salado Eagles put up quite the fight to take a 58-46 victory over Thorndale on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs, ranked second in Class 2A, came in as the favorite with a 3-1 tournament standing compared to Salado’s 2-2 weekend record.
It took only seconds for Salado senior forward Anthony Young to send Thorndale to the free-throw line but it took two minutes before the Bulldogs were on the board.
Eagles senior guard Jake Pittman stole a pass and drove in for a layup to get the first points on the board for Salado.
Late in the first quarter, the Eagles pulled ahead with a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Shane Roche. Salado led 13-11 heading into the second quarter.
Roche finished with a team-leading 17 points, including five of the Eagles’ seven 3-pointers.
“It felt good,” Roche said. “I was just getting the passes from my teammates. It was all my teammates.”
Thorndale quickly evened the score at the beginning of the second quarter but a 3-pointer from Roche with the assist from senior guard Pittman helped the Eagles continue to pull ahead.
Young was called on a third foul midway through the quarter and the large, partisan Salado crowd voiced its displeasure.
Junior forward Jeremy Jarvis put the crowd at ease on the next play with a fadeaway shot.
As the Bulldogs inched closer to the Eagles, junior guard W. P. Roche dropped a long 3-pointer of his own.
With seconds left before the half, W. P. Roche sank two free throws. But then Salado’s crowd got vocal again at the buzzer over a play that ended with an Eagle on the ground after he caught what appeared to be an elbow to the face.
Salado led 25-24 at the half.
Upon returning to the court, Thorndale head coach John Kovar approached Salado head coach Kenny Mann to reassure him that the elbow was unintentional.
Salado started the third quarter with junior guard Sam Brown driving the ball in for a bucket to push the Eagles further ahead.
In the middle of the quarter, Shane Roche drained another 3-pointer. That was followed by a steal on the next play by sophomore forward Reece Brown which he converted into a 3-pointer of his own.
Reece Brown added two more points and Shane Roche sank another 3-pointer to extend Salado’s lead to seven late in the third.
With seconds left on the clock in the period, W.P. Roche grabbed a missed Thorndale free throw, sprinted down the court and nailed a shot just before the buzzer to put Salade ahead 47-34 going into the last eight minutes.
The Bulldogs were first on the board in the fourth with two free throws from senior forward Aston Albert.
Shane Roche responded on the next play with his fifth and final 3-pointer of the game.
“Money Shane,” as his teammates put it after their victory.
In the last five minutes of the game, Jake Pittman helped secure the Eagles win with a layup, a free-throw and an assist to Sam Brown, who sank a 3-pointer to put Salado up by 15.
“There’s zero quit in my team and it doesn’t matter on any given night, any one guy can be a stud,” Salado coach Kenny Mann said.
“At a time when we really separated ourselves, I had my whole second group in. All my starters were on the bench. It was my second group that gave us that push. ... It doesn’t matter who I have, on a given night, any one of these guys will step up.”
Although they have a couple games and another tournament before facing Burnet in their district opener, confidence for this Eagles’ team can clearly be seen.
“We feel good; we feel better than last year,” Shane said. “We feel like a better team.
“We still have our football players coming, so we should be good by district.”