RFHS basketball team

Members of the 2021-22 Rockport-Fulton High School Pirate basketball team are, back row, from left, Roman Cox, Chance Bates, Kyle Novak, Mathew Vasquez, Patrick Lee, and Anton Dixon; front row, from left, Andrew Estrada, Brody Guerrero, Carter Engel, Tres Nesloney, and Logan Blankenship.

The Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) Pirate basketball team, marred by injuries, has been forced to adapt on the fly with a young, up-and-coming roster seeing extensive playing time with little to no varsity experience.

Out of its 11 players, seven of them are playing on the varsity level for the first time. Because of injuries, those seven players are now playing much bigger roles than fifth-year head coach Damien Bates previously anticipated.

“It’s led to guys being on the floor and having to do more than what I thought they’d have to do at this point in the season,” said Bates. “Especially early in the season, Roman, Logan, and Carter are having to shoulder more than what I wanted them to.”

While Bates has been pleased with their progress thus far, it’s been a challenge to get them up-to-speed on the varsity level.

“It’s been a crazy season. I thought we had that behind us with COVID, but then the injury-bug bit us,” said Bates.

Through various times in the season, RFHS has played without four of its most experienced players in Chance Bates, Mathew Vasquez, Anton Dixon, and Tres Nesloney. Neither of them have played on the court at the same time.

“We’ve played 23 games up to this point and Chance has only played nine, Tres has played seven, Anton’s played eight, and Mathew has played 13,” Bates said.

Currently, C. Bates and Dixon are nursing injuries. D. Bates hopes to get Dixon back soon, but its unclear when C. Bates will return.

D. Bates said injuries are part of the game, but its definitely worn on the team’s success thus far.

“It’s absolutely frustrating,” said Bates. “We miss certain aspects of each players game. Anton being big, physical, long, his experience last year, and hoping his experience last year would carry over to this year.

“Chance is just strong, handles the ball well, does a lot of little things for us and he’s absolutely our best on-ball defender. Losing that, we’ve had to change styles and put guys in different positions we weren’t ready to put them in.”

Nesloney and Vasquez were injured earlier in the season. Nesloney is still working his way back into the lineup while Vasquez has been back since December 2.

Vasquez is currently the only healthy starter with prior varsity experience. Beside the obvious of getting a big, talented player back in the lineup, D. Bates said Vasquez is absorbing all he can as a leader.

“As soon as he came back from injury, I told him and the team, this has to be our voice,” said D. Bates. “He’s absolutely had to step up on and off the court. I’m putting more and more on him and he’s doing a good job of embracing it.”

The Pirates began district play Tuesday, Jan. 4 in a loss to West Oso.

Competition in District 26-4A will be stacked at the top again with West Oso and Miller returning talented squads. The team hopes to make a return to the playoffs, but it won’t be easy.

“Every night’s going to be a battle,” said D. Bates. “I told the team: We’ve got to beat Ingleside, Calhoun and Beeville on the road and we have to protect our home court, especially against Sinton, Oso, and Miller to give ourselves a chance at the playoffs.”

This year’s team consists of two seniors, six juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman.

Seniors are Dixon and Brody Guerrero.

At guard, Guerrero is playing his first year on varsity and has played more this season due to injuries.

Juniors are C. Bates, Vasquez, Patrick Lee, Nesloney, Andrew Estrada, and Kyle Novak.

C. Bates has been on varsity since he was a freshman and has the most varsity experience. D. Bates said its unfortunate injuries have sidelined him for most of the season.

“It hurts you as a coach and as a dad because you see the extra work he put in up to this season and we were excited for it,” said D. Bates. “He grinded hard, and when you see him go down, you hurt for him.”

Vasquez is RFHS’ most talented big-man at center and was nominated as an Honorable Mention to the Caller-Times All-South Texas team last season. D. Bates said he began averaging a double-double as soon as he came back from injury.

“Whether it’s posting up, getting rebounds, defending and so on, its good to have that presence back on the inside,” Bates said.

Novak and Lee are playing their first seasons on varsity and use their length to their advantage at forward.

“Patrick’s so long and he’s still trying to figure out how to use his body because he’s grown so much over the last year,” said Bates. “When Anton got hurt, we asked Novak to move up and be that sub player for Mathew when we need him. He’s trying to get better every time he comes in.”

Estrada is a move-in from Bishop and came off the bench last season as a sophomore on varsity. D. Bates said his addition has been great this year in the wake of injuries to his other guards.

“He’s done a good job and has been a good defender for us,” said Bates.

Bates said Nesloney has been working hard to get back up to speed after sustaining an injury in a scrimmage earlier in the season.

“Right now he’s probably played more in games than he’s practiced since coming back,” said Bates.

Sophomores are guards Carter Engel and Logan Blankenship.

The lone freshman is Roman Cox, also a guard.

All three of them have been been “thrown to the wolves” this season due to injuries, but D. Bates loves the way they’ve responded.

“They’re all good kids and they all love the game,” said D. Bates. “I’ve been watching them play since 6th grade with Fusion with coach Cox and Julie Young.”

“Carter and Logan were on JV as freshman, starters, and got a lot of good experience there. Roman’s stepped up as a freshman and now he’s a starter and he’s earned it.

“I’ve put a lot on those three.”

Engel is an excellent ball-handler and has expanded his role more recently as a perimeter defender.

Blankenship recently set the team record for most made three’s in a game with seven. He currently leads the team with 55 3-pointers.

Cox is an explosive playmaker that takes on numerous assignments for RFHS on the offensive end.

Bates’ assistant coaches are junior varsity coach Brandon Krushall and freshman coach Keith Thompson.

Krushall returns to coach the JV after coaching the freshman team last season.

Thompson is new to the program but D. Bates is excited to have him on board. He played for the 2010-11 State Champion West Oso basketball team.

“He’s just been a sponge and a guy I can ask an opinion for and been able to contribute there,” said Bates. “He’s been a big, strong asset for us.”

The Pirates next district game is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11 at Ingleside.

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