After 33 straight district losses, the El Campo Ricebirds Tuesday night at home held off the Sealy Tigers 67-64, picking their first win since 2017.
Following a missed three by Sealy, the Ricebirds jumped off the bench in amazement over the feat they just accomplished. They shook the Tigers hands, then ran into their locker room. Loud cheers and screams could be heard emanating through the closed doors as they celebrated something that, no player on the team had achieved as varsity players, pick up a district win.
“We went into (the locker room) and it felt like we won the national championship or something,” first-year Ricebirds Coach Chris Burrow said.
“It’s real special for the seniors to get their first district win,” sophomore point guard Isaiah Anderson said.
In the first game with Sealy, earlier in the season, the Tigers jumped all over the Ricebirds to start the game.
El Campo treated Sealy to their own fast start Tuesday night opening the game on a 14-0 run.
Anderson and junior forward Ivan Gonzales alternated quarters of hot shooting, both combining to score 33 points. Anderson finished with a game-high 22 points.
“I told the team if they feed me the ball, I’m going to do good,” Anderson said. “I wanted to win real bad and get our first district win.”
The Ricebirds offense shocked the Tigers and went into halftime leading 41-28.
“During halftime, the very first thing I told them was if you are satisfied with the score, you need to stay into the locker room,” Burrow said. “We needed to stay focused and keep doing the little things that we were doing and it would come.”
Back on the court, Sealy started to get their feet under them and the lead El Campo had built started to get chipped away. The pressure of actually getting their first win caused some tight play and Sealy started to capitalize, getting the score down to a five-point game midway through the third quarter.
Each time Sealy looked like they put together a run to overtake the Ricebirds and hand them their 34th straight district loss, they’d grab an important basket to give themselves breathing room.
“They started to come back, but we just kept our head in the game and kept coming, bringing it to them,” senior guard Tanner Oldag said.
With under 1:30 left to play, Ricebird junior post Reagan Spenrath hit a free-throw jumper to put them up 67-60.
Sealy again answered with a layup and foul. After their made free-throw, the lead was cut to four points.
On the following possession, El Campo had a turnover, but good defense forced a Sealy miss. The Ricebirds came down the court and nearly turned the ball over again.
This time, Burrow called a timeout to calm the team down with under a minute left to play.
El Campo inbounded the ball and ran off as much clock as they could, but was fouled with 26 seconds left. With a chance to extend their lead, they missed their free-throw.
Sealy came down the court and took a three, but was fouled. The Tigers would only make one free-throw. After the 14-0 lead to start the game, the lead was down to three with eight seconds left.
“Whether (or not) we won by three or four, or by 30 it was still pressure and the guys handled it,” Burrow said.
The Ricebirds brought the ball in and were quickly fouled. El Campo once again missed at the line and with five seconds left Sealy had a chance to tie the game.
Sealy forward Reece Novicke brought the ball upcourt and at the three-point line launched a shot over the outstretched arms of sophomore Trinceton Foley. Novicke’s shot fell short and El Campo got their first taste of a district win.
The last Ricebirds district win came on the road against the Bay City Blackcats Feb 6, 2017.
Nearly three years to the day, the accomplished that feat once again. While the team only has three games remaining, the hopes are high it won’t be another three years until they pick up another win.
“I think this is a big step moving forward,” Oldag said. “I think (now) that we got this out of the way we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. I think El Campo basketball is on the come up.”
The El Campo Ladybirds Tuesday night at home started hot and beat the Sealy Lady Tigers 56-32.
All but one Ladybird made it into the scoring book against Sealy as the offense started and finished strong.
On the road last night, the Ladybirds played the Wharton Lady Tigers. With a win, they’ll own the tie-breaker over Wharton, giving them a good shot at the second playoff seed in the district.