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Grapeland finishes season as state runner-up

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 MG 6402COURTESY OF MARSHA COOK Grapeland’s Caderian Wiley battles for a loose ball against Clarendon in the UIL Class 2A Boys Basketball State Championship game Saturday in San Antonio. The Sandies battled to the bitter end but came up short 64-60.

By Larry Lamb

Grapeland High School’s overflowing display case is even more crowded now with the addition of the 2021 UIL Class 2A Boys Basketball State Runner-up trophy the Sandies brought home Saturday from San Antonio.

The Sandies lost a hard-fought battle with the Clarendon Broncos, 64-60, in the championship game at the Alamodome.

Despite falling behind by eight late in the game, the Sandies refused to throw in the towel.

Trailing 54-46, with 5:59 left in the game, the Sandies went on a 14-5 run to slip in front 60-59 with :35 left.

Clarendon tied it on a free throw with :24 left and converted a steal into a layup with :11 left to go ahead 62-60.

The Broncos scored their final bucket with :04 after a turnover by the Sandies.

Grapeland trailed 18-12 after a quarter but Clarendon opened up an eight-point lead early in the second.

A layup by B.J. Lamb with :21 left in the half closed the gap to 30-26 at the break.

“We hadn’t shot the ball particularly well. We did some things that were uncharacteristic of us and we were still right in the game. We talked to the guys at halftime about staying the course, continuing to work hard and continuing to play hard all the way through,” said Grapeland head coach Blake Doughty during a Zoom post-game press conference.

An energized Grapeland crew started the second half with a 6-1 run to slip in front 32-31 at the 6:32 mark in the third.

After Clarendon went in front 39-34, the lead changed hands several times.

Three straight buckets by Keizion Ashford, Lamb and Omarian Wiley gave the Sandies a 44-41 lead -- their biggest since early in the first half -- with :36 left in the third.

With :01 left in the third, Clarendon’s Donovan Thompson heaved up a three-pointer -- the only one by either team -- to put the Broncos up 47-46 heading into the fourth.

Senior State All-Tourney honorees Lamb and Ashford led the Sandies’ scoring with 19 apiece. Lamb was 7 of 8 at the line.

Wiley rounded out double figures with 13. Omarian Wiley had five while Riley Murchison and Michael Dancer chipped in two apiece.

Clarendon’s Donovan, who led all scorers with 21, was named Championship Game MVP.

“Obviously we’re disappointed. Everybody that gets to this point and doesn’t reach the top of the mountain is disappointed. But I’m so proud of these guys and the humans that they are. I’m so proud of the people that they are going to become as they move on from Grapeland High School. That’s really the important part of this and it’s hard to keep that in perspective all the time when you’re talking about the state final game. These guys mean the world to me. They’re great, great kids,” said Doughty.

This was Grapeland’s sixth appearance in the “Big Dance” since the 1985 Sandies captured the state crown. Grapeland made subsequent trips to state in 1999, 2001, 2014 and 2017 but was unable to crash through the semi-final barrier until this year.

Clarendon’s state championship is the first in school history after five previous tournament appearances.

Praising his team’s resiliency, Doughty added, “These guys never quit. They never gave in. They never turned on each other and that part’s great. We got to the point at the end of the game and both of our senior guards (Lamb and Ashford) had fouled out. That part can make it difficult to close out and finish games,” said Doughty, whose team ended the year with a 29-2 record.

Asked what Clarendon did to make it difficult for the Sandies, Doughty responded, “I thought they matched our athleticism and that’s something we don’t see all the time. But more than that, we just didn’t have a good day shooting the ball. We didn’t shoot the ball from the three, we didn’t shoot the ball well from the free throw line.”

The Sandies rained a barrage of 11 treys in their semifinal victory over Schulenburg but went 0-of-8 from beyond the arc against Clarendon. They left 15 points at the charity stripe, hitting just 14 of 29.

Clarendon (25-4) made just one of eight from beyond the arc and nailed 13 of 24 free throws.

Doughty continued, “They’re good defensively and they’re active, but I think that’s got more to do with us than it does them.”

with us than it does them.”

Ashford and junior Cadarian Wiley joined Doughty for post-game interviews.

“It’s been a good season because of the great teammates I have. It’s been an amazing season. We just came up short,” said Ashford.

An emotional Wiley said, “I’m going to take this loss and we’re going to be back next year.”

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Dixon takes reins as Crockett AD/football coach

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IMG 1493LARRY LAMB | HCC Lufkin native and former Texas A&M football player Alton Dixon is the new athletic director and head football coach at Crockett High School.

By Larry Lamb

Crockett ISD has selected Alton Dixon as its new athletic director and head football coach.

Dixon, one of more than 130 applicants, was officially approved by the school board Monday night.

The new AD was introduced to athletes Tuesday and is expected to start full time the last week of March.

Dixon, a Lufkin native who played college football at Texas A&M, comes to Crockett from class 5A Wylie East High School where he was defensive coordinator/assistant head coach the past three years.

“They hadn’t won in years and when we got there we flipped it over. That was the first time they’d been in the playoffs in about 15 years,” Dixon said of Wylie East’s program.

Dixon was a defensive player at Lufkin High School under legendary coach John Outlaw and defensive coordinator Todd Quick.

He was awarded a scholarship to Texas A&M University where he was a four-year starter. He first played cornerback for the Aggies, then safety and linebacker. One of Dixon’s teammates was former CHS sports star L’Tydrick Riley.

After graduating from A&M, Dixon said he had some opportunities in the NFL that didn’t pan out so he started working in the Aggies weight room for strength and conditioning coach Dave Kennedy.

“That’s kind of what got my coaching itch-bug started,” said Dixon, who then returned to his high school alma mater as assistant football coach for Quick, who had moved up to head coach after Outlaw’s death.

He remained at Lufkin for about five years before accepting a defensive coordinator position with 5A Dallas Molina.

Dixon credits his high school coaches – Outlaw and Quick – for influencing his career choice. “ I don’t have any family ties to coaching. I think I got that coaching in me from those guys. They are my coaching family,” he said.

Describing his coaching philosophy, Dixon said, “It’s discipline, commitment, loving each other, playing hard-nosed football most importantly, but we’re going to be very, very much a class-act. We’re going to have great character when we play the game.”

Dixon said his decision regarding a run or pass oriented offense for the Bulldogs will be based on “what we have in the cupboards” personnel-wise.

“I do know we have a great athlete at quarterback and I do know we have great speed so that all aligns to being able to spread it out a little. I’m not a guy who’s going to walk in and say you’ve got to do this, this and this. I’m a guy who says let’s evaluate what we have and let’s go for it like that,” he said.

Starting his career at Lufkin under coach Quick, Dixon said he learned the “fundamental ways” of defense.

“We started with the basics of a 4-3 defense. But here in Crockett we have such great speed I believe we’re going to be able to continue what coach (Gary) Grubbs has done with the 3-4 defense. I really love the speed that we have and I love his premise and philosophy. I think we’re going to blend very well. He’s done a really good job of having a solid foundation of defense so we’re going to carry on, but very similar to what we’re going to do on offense.”

Once Dixon gets settled in, he plans for the Bulldogs to participate in 7-on-7 and have them competing in a higher bracket this year. “We want to play a more competitive bracket with 5A-6A early on and then get into an SQT in the 3A-4A bracket,” he noted. “We know what kind of children we have. We have the kind that other people would pray to have.”

A summer strength and conditioning program is also planned and some of the junior athletes will attend football recruiting camps to prepare for their senior seasons. “From there we’ll move into fall camp pace,” he said.

Dixon has always been impressed with Crockett’s rich athletic tradition.

“It’s always been tradition-rich. I know the kind of athletes that come out of here. I know the story of the Crockett Rocket (Claude Riley) and I know L’Tydrick Riley. I know all those Rileys. It’s East Texas. Smells like home, feels like home. Ain’t nothing like being in God’s country. We build a certain brand of boy and girl out here, a certain brand of woman and man. I think these children are a special cut from Texas, I really do.”

Regarding the high amount of interest the position generated, Crockett ISD Supt. John Emerich said applications continued to trickle in after the cutoff two weeks ago.

“I think that’s a testament to what people think Crockett is and can be,” Emerich said of the 300-plus applicants. “I had lots of folks to choose from and it was a pretty difficult process. I went through every single application and read those.”

Emerich said he received a number of calls recommending various coaches for the position.

“But this man (Dixon) was actually not one of those that was recommended to me. There was something about his application that stuck out to me,” said Emerich.

“I narrowed it down to 18 and interviewed them. Then I narrowed it down to five finalists that I brought in and talked to them more extensively. This guy (Dixon) just kept rising to the top after that whole process. I think this is the right fit for me, which means it’s the right fit for Crockett, for our kids and our community. I really think he’s going to be a good partner of mine in helping to fulfill the mission that I’d like to see happen here in Crockett. I think we share the same vision on that kind of thing,” he continued.

Emerich said in closing, “I’m excited. I’m excited for our kids here, Crockett ISD and for the community. This man is just what we needed here. I think he’s going to be the key to helping us get to the next level. You know what we have here naturally and if we tweak a few things I think we can really see some different results. This is the man to help us do that. That’s why I brought him forward to the board. It seemed like the board thought that way too last night after they met him. We’re excited to see what he’s going to do here.”

Dixon summed up, “I am very grateful to Mr. Emerich. It wasn’t easy. He made me sweat a little bit during the process and pressed me really hard. I think he saw my heart and saw my passion, and I think that’s how we got here today.

“I’m looking forward to meeting members of the community. They are going to get my best at all times and I have nothing but their child’s success on my mind. I look forward to being out in the community and building up great relationships and building and enhancing our great traditions that we have here. Go Bulldogs. Go Big Blue.”

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Grapeland eyes state crown

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 MG 5696PHOTO BY MARSHA COOK Grapeland sophomore Riley Murchison drains one of his six 3-pointers over Schulenburg’s Keisean Johnson in the state semifinal Tuesday.

By Larry Lamb

The Grapeland Sandies are one win away from bringing home the school’s second boys basketball state championship.

The Sandies (29-1) handled Schulenburg 74-60 in the state semifinal Tuesday night in Aldine ISD’s Campbell Center and advanced to the Class 2A championship game against Clarendon (24-4) Saturday in San Antonio. Tip-off is 10 a.m. in the Alamodome.

Since winning the 1985 state crown, Grapeland has made tournament appearances in 1999, 2001, 2014 and 2017 but hasn’t been able to get past the semifinal round.

Now that the 2021 Sandies have crashed through the semifinal barrier, the Clarendon Broncos are the last obstacle to the gold.

Clarendon, located in the panhandle east of Amarillo, beat Lipan 68-47 in the state semifinal.

This is Clarendon’s fifth appearance in the state tournament but the Broncos have never won a title.

Both Grapeland and Clarendon reached the Final Four in 2017 and lost to Muenster. Muenster beat the Sandies 56-52 (OT) in the state semifinal and then knocked off Clarendon 73-45 in the championship game.

In addition to a trip to state in 2010, Clarendon made two appearances in 1968 and 1969 as a class 1A school. Clarendon’s ’69 team fell to Kennard in the championship game.

With the state crown on the line Saturday, Grapeland hopes to duplicate the first quarter offensive firestorm it unleashed against Schulenburg.

Paced by Cadarian Wiley’s 11 points in the opening period, the Sandies raced out to a 26-6 lead.

Schulenburg opened the second with a 7-0 run to slice the lead in half but saw Grapeland open up a 21-point edge. The Shorthorns were able to cut the lead to 45-29 at halftime.

Schulenburg came out energized in the third and scored three unanswered baskets to make it a 10-point game.

Wiley finally broke the scoring ice with a free throw at the 5:45 mark but two quick buckets by Schulenburg trimmed the gap to seven, 46-39.

Senior B. J. Lamb and sophomore Riley Murchison took matters into their own hands and fueled a 17-2 run that put Grapeland back in control 63-41.

The Sandies’ 17-point frenzy included four consecutive treys – one by Lamb and three by Murchison.

Two late Schulenburg tallies made it 63-45 heading into the final period.

The Shorthorns got within 11 with 2:00 left but hopes of a miracle comeback faded with a steal and back-to-back buckets by Lamb.

Schulenburg scored its final point at the line with :55 left and seemed content to let the Sandies run out the clock.

Wiley and Murchison, who drained six treys, each finished with 23 points. Murchison also made his presence known on defense with seven steals. Wiley had six steals and eight rebounds.

Lamb swooshed in three treys and rounded out double figures with 17. Omarian Wiley chipped in seven and Keizion Ashford had four.

Schulenburg senior Brycen Wilson capped his career with a game-high 30 points and senior Kenny King followed with 13.

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Sandies advance to state semifinal

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 MG 5462COURTESY PHOTO | MARSHA COOK Grapeland’s Cadarian Wiley brings fans to their feet with a slam-dunk in the regional championship game against LaPoynor Saturday.

By Larry Lamb

Revenge is always satisfying but a win that moves you a step closer to a state basketball championship is even sweeter.

The No. 3 Grapeland Sandies (28-1) took down No. 4 LaPoynor 75-57 in the regional final Friday at Fairfield.

LaPoynor put the only blemish on the Sandies’ resume back on Dec. 12 when the Flyers notched a 61-56 non-district road win.

Grapeland advances to the state semifinals against Schulenburg Tuesday at Aldine ISD’s Campbell Center. Schulenburg, ranked No. 20 in the final TABC poll, knocked off No. 7 Port Aransas 57-50 in the regional final.

The winner of the Grapeland-Schulenburg game advances to the championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio Saturday at 10 a.m.

No. 2 Clarendon and No. 8 Lipan will face off for the other state tournament berth.

LaPoynor led 12-10 after a quarter but didn’t have an answer for a barrage of seven 3-pointers by Grapeland that fueled a 32-11 run in the second quarter.

By halftime the Sandies were firmly in control 42-23 behind B.J. Lamb’s four treys and a pair of deuces in the second quarter. Riley Murchison drained a pair of treys and Johnny Lamb swooshed in another from 3-point range at the buzzer for a 19-point advantage.

Grapeland’s second quarter flurry also included five points by Keizion Ashford and a basket by Omarian Wiley.

The Flyers came out energized in the third quarter and reeled off an 11-2 run to whittle the lead down to 44-34.

Momentum shifted back to the Sandies when Ashford buried a trey and an electrifying two-handed dunk by Cadarian Wiley pushed their lead to 49-34 with 3:00 left in the third.

After Murchison scored on a put-back and Ashford converted a steal to go up by 18, LaPoynor drilled a trey with 40 seconds left in the quarter.

B.J. Lamb took the ball the length of the court in the waning seconds and laid it in at the buzzer for a 57-40 lead.

LaPoynor refused to go away quietly and opened the fourth quarter with a 12-4 run to get within nine.

After Cadarian Wiley slammed home his second dunk of the night and Mike Dancer scored a bucket, the Flyers rattled off nine unanswered points to make it 61-52 with 5:20 left.

Grapeland put the game away with a 14-0 run that included three baskets by Cadarian Wiley and one by Omarian Wiley, along with perfect 4-of-4 free throw shooting by B.J. Lamb and two by Murchison.

B.J. Lamb paced the Sandies with 24 points followed by Cadarian Wiley with 16, Murchison with 12 and Ashford with 10. Omarian Wiley had six points, Dancer four and Johnny Lamb three.

Ashford led the Sandies with seven steals and five assists.

Garrett Nuckolls, who was scoreless in the first half, led LaPoynor with 14 and Cooper Gracey had 12.

LaPoynor was declared a Class 1A State Co-Champion last year after winning its state semifinal game before the UIL suspended the tournament due to COVID-19 concerns. LaPoynor was elevated to class 2A when the UIL announced its 2020-2022 realignment and reclassification.

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Grapeland reaches Elite 8

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 MG 5027MARSHA COOK PHOTO Grapeland’s Cadarian Wiley shoots over Gary defender Landon Woodfin during a regional semifinals matchup Tuesday night in Lufkin.

By Larry Lamb

After toppling No. 1 Martin’s Mill, the Grapeland Sandies added another notch on their belt by taking down No. 9 Gary 48-46 in the regional semifinals Tuesday in Lufkin.

Grapeland’s win sets up a showdown between the No. 3 Sandies (27-1) and No. 4 LaPoynor (26-5) in the regional final Friday night at Fairfield High School.

LaPoynor, which edged Big Sandy 53-50 in the regional semifinals, handed the Sandies their only loss, 61-56, back on Dec.12.

The winner of the Grapeland-LaPoynor matchup advances to the state semifinal round March 8-9 with a ticket to the Class 2A State Championship in San Antonio on Saturday, March 13 up for grabs.

Grapeland led by six three times in the final five minutes but could not put Gary away.

The Sandies had a six-point lead with 1:50 left after Cadarian Wiley hit his third straight bucket.

Gary answered with a deep trey and then hit one of two free throws to make it 47-45 with 46.8 seconds left.

Grapeland’s B.J. Lamb went to the line for a one-and-one situation with 10.9 seconds left. He sank the front end but the second would not fall, holding the Sandies’ lead at 48-45.

Trailing by three, Gary inbounded the ball and a foul on Cadarian Wiley sent the Bobcats to the line for two shots with 1.8 seconds left.

Needing a miracle, the Bobcats’ only hope was to make the first free throw, intentionally miss the second, get the rebound and score.

Landon Woodfin’s first attempt was good to make it 48-46. His second shot hit the rim and the Sandies collected the rebound as the buzzer sounded, setting off Grapeland’s victory celebration.

Playing their preferred brand of run-and-gun style of basketball, the Sandies raced out to a 6-0 lead.

After Gary slowed the tempo, the Bobcats were able to match Grapeland’s six points the rest of the first quarter but still trailed 12-6.

Gary was within a point with 4:45 left in the second when the Sandies pulled away 21-15 on three unanswered buckets.

The Bobcats drained a trey in the closing seconds of the half, capping a 10-2 run that put them on top 25-23 at the break.

Seizing momentum in the third quarter, the Sandies went on a 10-2 run to take a 33-27 lead at the 4:00 mark.

Gary scored back-to-back buckets to make it a two-point game with :25 left. In the closing seconds Mike Dancer heaved an errant trey but a rebound and put-back by Keizion Ashford at the buzzer pushed the Sandies’ lead to 35-31.

Lamb went to the bench with four fouls at the 1:08 mark in the third and returned early in the fourth after Gary nailed a pair of free throws to get within two.

Held to their lowest offensive output this season, the Sandies were led by Cadarian Wiley’s 18 points. Wiley scored eight of Grapeland’s 11 points in the second quarter and made three consecutive baskets in the fourth.

Lamb, who scored his team’s only three-pointer of the night, recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds

Keizion Ashford scored nine, Mike Dancer and Omarian Wiley chipped in two apiece, and Riley Murchison had one.

Gary’s Ryan Ecker led a trio of double-digit scorers with 15. Landon Woodfin had 13 and Dakota Beckham finished with 11.

Grapeland made 5 of 10 free throws and Gary hit 10 of 13.

The Sandies came into the game riding momentum from an 81-75 upset of top-ranked Martin’s Mill Saturday afternoon in Frankston.

The match-up featuring two of the state’s premier class 2A teams lived up to all the pre-game hype.

Grapeland led by three after a quarter and outscored the Mustangs 26-18 in the second to open up an 11-point halftime lead.

After Lamb hit two straight buckets to put the Sandies up 41-30, Mustang Carter Jones drilled a trey to make it an eight-point game with :10 left in the half.

Lamb had an answer, however, when he heaved a 3-point buzzer-beater from half court to stretch the Sandies’ lead back to 44-33 at the break.

Martin’s Mill came out sizzling in the third, hitting three treys in an 11-2 run to cut the lead to two, 46-44.

A 9-2 run put Grapeland up 55-46 but the Mustangs tied it 61-61 on a deep trey in the waning seconds of the third.

The game was tied at 67 early in the fourth when a put-back by Murchison ignited a 6-0 run that put the Sandies up 73-67.

After their lead was cut to two, 77-75, the Sandies hit four clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

Lamb, a Trinity Valley Community College football signee, led the Sandies with a triple-double of 22 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

Wiley booked 22 points and nine rebounds while Ashford rounded out double figures with 16 and led with five steals.

 

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