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Lovelady baseballers keep rolling

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IMG 2520LARRY LAMB | HCC Grapeland’s Cooper Sheridan awaits a throw as Lovelady’s Brenton Crawford slides toward second for a successful steal in Friday’s district matchup.

By Larry Lamb

The Lovelady Lions rolled to 5-1 in District 21-2A baseball with back-to-back road wins over Latexo, 25-4, on Monday night and Grapeland, 15-0, on Friday morning.

The Lions jumped on top of Latexo 8-0, but the Tigers made it interesting when they plated four runs in the bottom of the fourth to get back in the game and cut the lead to 8-4.

A 17-run explosion by Lovelady in the top of the fifth inning put the game out of reach and the Tigers were unable to score in the bottom half to avoid the run-rule.

Latexo took advantage of four Lovelady errors to push across four runs in the fourth. The first two batters reached on an error and scored on a double by Cameron Baker, who was later thrown out advancing to home. Malachi Reece singled, Kade Hauck reached on an error and Tyler Lumbreraz singled in a run to make it 8-3. Hauck advanced to third and scored on an error to cut Lovelady’s lead to 8-4 with one out.

Lions starting moundsman E.J. Sandoval struck out the next batter and a pop-out ended the inning with Lumbreraz on third.

Sandoval worked four innings, giving up four runs on four hits with six strikeouts and no walks.

Lovelady reliever Matthew Wheeler sealed the win in the fifth, allowing one hit and no runs with one strikeout and no walks.

Latexo’s Logan Ray pitched four innings, giving up eight hits, 11 runs (five earned) with two strikeouts and seven walks. Reece worked one inning and gave up five runs on four hits with five walks. Two other Tigers saw action on the hill and combined for nine runs and three hits.

The Lions collected a total of 15 hits and walked 14 times while only striking out twice.

Slade Murray had the big bat for the Lions with four hits and Brenton Crawford was right behind with three hits and four RBI. Jackson Reeves and Matthew Wheeler had two hits apiece.

Against Grapeland, the Lions grabbed a 6-0 lead in the second and continued to pull away with two in the third, four in the fourth and three in the fifth to notch a run-rule victory.

Lion batsmen collected 12 hits off three pitchers.

Brenton Crawford went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and scored four runs.

Slade Murray had three hits and four RBI, while Sandoval and Wheeler each hit a double and finished the day 2-for-3. Wheeler scored three runs. Jackson Reeves had a double and Larkin had a base hit.

Winning pitcher Carter Murray gave up two hits, struck out eight and walked one in the five-inning shutout.

Cooper Sheridan and Jacob Vaden collected Grapeland’s only hits off Murray.

Cameron Navarette started on the mound for the Sandies and worked two innings. Peyton Prater pitched 1 1/3 innings and Jayce Elliott worked the final 1 2/3 innings.

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Crockett boys finish as district track runner-up

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IMG 2282LARRY LAMB | HCC Crockett sophomore Blake Jones heaves the discus 126 feet, 6 inches to win a gold medal in the District 20-3A track and field meet.

By Larry Lamb

District newcomers Franklin and Fairfield took home team titles at the District 20-3A Track and Field Meet on Wednesday, March 31 and Thursday, April 1 at Crockett ISD’s Driskell Stadium.

Franklin racked up 202 points to capture the varsity boys crown over runner-up Crockett (114). Teague (71), Elkhart (67), Palestine Westwood (45), Fairfield (43), Groesbeck (41) and Buffalo (30) rounded out the team standings.

Fairfield, which dropped from class 4A this year, dominated the varsity girls division with 218 points and Franklin was a distant second with 111 points. Palestine Westwood (92) was third, followed by Elkhart (71), Teague (64), Groesbeck (38), Crockett (15) and Buffalo (11).

The top four finishers in each event return to Crockett next week to compete in the area meet. The top four finishers then move on to regional competition April 23-24 at Waco Midway High School.

In running events, Crockett boys advanced in two relay races and four individual races. The Bulldogs had five area qualifiers in three field events.

Randy Jones took gold in the 100-meter dash (11.55) and Keyshun Easterling was third in the 200 (23.28).

Omar Garcia earned silvers in both the 1600 (5:01.27) and 3200 (11.26) behind Franklin’s Nate Philipello.

Crockett boys finished second behind Franklin in two relay races

The Bulldogs 400 relay team of Dennis Simmons, Xzavian Walker, Keyshun Easterling and Randy Jones posted a time of 44.02 and the 800 foursome of Easterling, Jadyn Collins, Walker and Jones clocked in at 1:31.18

In field events, Crockett was led by a one-two showing in discus throw. Sophomore Blake Jones won the district title with a heave of 126’6” and teammate Melvin Evans took second with 116’9”.

High jumpers Delvin Walker (6’2”) and Markell Paxton (6’0”) placed second and third, respectively.

Freshman pole vaulter Joseph Tuggle was second with a height of 10’0”.

Two Bulldogs ranked among the district’s top 10 athletes. Randy Jones was No. 8 with 18 points and Garcia tied for No. 9 with 16.

In the varsity girls division, Lady Bulldog La’Kyra Hamilton qualified for area in two events. She was third in the 100 dash (13.34) and third in the 200 (26.71).

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Henderson edges Crockett in bi-district soccer

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IMG 1859LARRY LAMB | HCC Crockett goalie Antonio Cruz makes a diving save against Henderson in a bi-district game on Thursday.

By Larry Lamb

The Crockett Bulldogs capped the regular season with five straight wins but couldn’t keep their streak going against the Henderson Lions in the first round of the class 4A state soccer playoffs.

Henderson scored two second-half goals to beat the Bulldogs 2-0 in a bi-district matchup Thursday night at Hudson High School’s Hornet Field.

The Bulldogs and Lions battled back and forth down the field for the first 40 minutes. At halftime, the game was locked in a 0-0 stalemate.

Crockett continued to struggle with finding an offensive spark early in the second half while Henderson finally found the back of the net at the 32:04 mark. The Lions tacked on an insurance goal with 16:36 left.

Bulldogs coach Gary Gutierrez praised junior goalie Antonio Cruz’s performance.

“In my opinion he won man of the match. He kept us in the game for as long as he could and he made absolute incredible saves. He’s going to be an elite goal keeper if he really wants to. Luckily I’ll have him back next year,” said Gutierrez.

Henderson, which finished second in its district, sits at 14-8-4 overall going into the second round against Paris.

While seeing the season end is always heartbreaking – especially for the senior trio of Alex Orozco, Pablo Ayala and Salvador Lopez – Gutierrez says the Bulldogs can be proud of their accomplishments.

“This is the best season the boys have ever played. This is the best they’ve ever done in the playoffs. The boys have made a huge improvement from last year and prior years, and even from the beginning of this season. This is the strongest team Crockett has ever had and it’s only going to get stronger,” said Gutierrez.

Crockett finished third out of eight teams in District 16-4A with a 10-4 record and ended the season with a 14-9 mark.

Palestine won the district championship, Livingston came in second and Diboll finished fourth behind Crockett.

As expected, Palestine prevailed over Carthage 2-0 in the first round Thursday. Livingston takes on Center in bi-district Friday at Hudson. Diboll, the fourth place seed, faces Kilgore.

Crockett, a relatively young program, is marking its fourth year of UIL sanctioned competition. The Bulldogs made the playoffs as the fourth place seed their first two seasons and were poised to earn a playoff berth last season when the UIL suspended competition due to the pandemic.

Gutierrez noted that the Bulldogs’ district losses were to Palestine and Livingston, both 4A schools.

“We only lost to two teams in district (Palestine and Livingston). We’re blowing teams out that in previous years had blown us out such as Hudson and Madisonville. In our last five games we have scored 18 goals and have only allowed three goals,” pointed out Gutierrez.

“This is my first year here but I’d safely assume that we have scored more goals than this team has ever scored in a single season and allowed the least amount of goals. This team has won the most amount of games and has lost the least amount of games,” said Gutierrez.

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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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