The Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) Pirate basketball team ended its playoff run short against the La Vernia Bears 73-62 in the area round Friday, Feb. 28 in Yoakum.

RFHS ends its successful 2019-20 campaign with an overall record of 28-8 after claiming its first district championship in 27 years with a 13-1 district record.

The Pirates struggled to shoot all night against La Vernia. Meanwhile, the Bears put up one of its best shooting performances of the season at just the right time against the Pirates. With a team full of seniors and aspirations of making it to the regional tournament, the loss was a tough pill to swallow for the team and RFHS Head Basketball Coach Damien Bates.

“We played so hard, we just didn’t play well,” said Bates. “I think that’s what made that loss so hard. We could have won that one, we could of won the third one, and could have been in the regional tournament.”

In the first quarter, RFHS struggled to get going offensively after Tyson Cox was put in foul trouble early. La Vernia used its size inside to accumulate most of its points against RFHS. However, La Vernia was not able to pull away and held only a three-point lead to end the quarter 10-7.

In the second, La Vernia used a combination of its size inside and its three point shooters to begin to pull away from RFHS. The Pirates were unsuccessful on numerous drives to the basket as La Vernia played tight defense in the paint. Ty Klender hit on a couple midrange shots, however it was all the Pirates had going for them offensively. RFHS was also struggling to shoot from the three-point line.

With La Vernia building a sizable lead and looking to pull away in the final minutes of the quarter, Konnor McMahon got the Pirates out of a bind and hit two 3-point field goals to keep it within 15. RFHS went into the half trailing 33-21.

“It was probably one of our lower shooting games of the season,” said Bates. “Their (La Vernia) length had a lot to do with that, but we also missed some open shots.”

In the third, La Vernia went right back to where they left off in the second quarter and did most of their damage in the post. RFHS struggled to keep La Vernia off the boards offensively and allowed the Bears to build a 20-point lead with four minutes remaining.

In the last three minutes of the quarter, RFHS finally got its break and went on a run offensively while La Vernia all of a sudden began to miss shots. The combination of Tyson Cox and Kaden Harder in the paint began to click for RFHS. Cox was finishing at the basket and scored eight points. Harder began collecting offensive rebounds and feeds from Cox and McMahon inside. Harder went 4-4 from the line and hit one layup. The Pirates had shortened La Vernia’s lead from 20 to down 13 to end the quarter.

“I told the boys, ‘just keep us within range and then we can go out there and win it,’” said Bates.

In the fourth, the Pirates came to within six points of leading a big comeback against La Vernia.

RFHS put La Vernia in foul trouble early in the quarter and began to attack the Bears in the paint often. Cox, McMahon, and Harder finished on numerous drives to the basket. RFHS also began to press the Bears hard defensively and turned numerous turnovers into points. RFHS’ tight defense gave them the opportunity to slowly chip away at the Bears’ lead.

With just under a minute remaining, RFHS put the score to within six points at 65-59. However, La Vernia answered with a layup on the fast break to extend its lead back to eight.

From then, RFHS had its chances to get back in the game but missed on one too many opportunities in the final minute to catch La Vernia.

“As I told the boys, we could have made different adjustments, we could have done things differently, so it’s definitely not on them. We have to do a better job as a coaching staff at getting us ready,” said Bates.

After Cole Armstrong and Cox fouled out in the final minute of play, RFHS was unable to finish on its comeback, falling 73-62.

RFHS will graduate a large portion of its roster, losing five seniors and one junior.

The trio of seniors in Cox, McMahon, and Armstrong have been under the direction of Bates since his arrival at RFHS in 2017.

“I’m going to miss those seniors. They were my guys as sophomores, they were all on varsity my first year here,” said Bates. “I’m going to miss those relationships, I’m going to miss their leadership. All three of them led in a really positive way.”

RFHS will also graduate seniors Garrett Loudermilk and Klender. Both players had never played on the varsity basketball team before and asked Bates if they could join the team after a successful football season.

“Getting to know Garrett and Ty was just such a blessing in itself,” said Bates.

Junior guard Jeremy Hawkins will graduate early.

The Pirates will return only three players on the current varsity roster in Chance Bates, Josh Lee, and Harder.

While the Pirates will certainly miss the dynamic duo of McMahon and Cox, the team will utilize pieces of its successful junior varsity team to help shoulder the load. The junior varsity team was undefeated in district play this season, winning the junior varsity district championship.

“They just got to get used to the speed of the game. Its completely different from JV to varsity,” said Bates. “We’ll put them in some spring leagues, get them in some tournaments throughout the summer and try to get this new group to gel. I’m not looking at a huge drop off from this year to next year.”

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