Bulldogs come up short in bid for state title

The Bulldogs accept the State Trophy for being silver medalists in the State Tournament. The Thorndale Bulldogs bid for a state title came up short with a 61-55 loss to the Stinnett West Texas Comanches in the title game. Thorndale reached the championship game with a Friday morning semifinal win over Muenster (18-6). The Bulldogs defeated the Region II winner and defending state champions 39-35.






The Thorndale Bulldogs (34-4) had a tall order in front of them to win the program’s third boys basketball state title, but the height of the Stinnett West Texas Comanches (36-2) was just too much, as the Bulldogs fell 61-55 in the Class 2A UIL state basketball title game at the Alamodome in San Antonio on March 10.

The Comanches’ roster included a 6-8 center and a 6-4 guard.  That factor had Thorndale’s defense doubling down on the players in the paint and down low and left West Texas perimeter shooters with several open shots.

Jonah Villanueva, a sophomore guard that made just three points in the Comanches’ state semifinal win on Friday, hit six of his 10 shots beyond the arc for a game-high 22 points and inadvertently was named the championship game MVP.

“For 37 games, I had told our guys that if we play great defense and the other team hits the shots that beat you, the other team just hits the shots that beat you,” Thorndale head coach John Kovar said.

The game was the biggest crowd either team had played in front of this season, with 11,873 spectators on hand.

Thorndale started the game well, leading by as much as five with 6:59 left in the opening quarter.  West Texas was able to come back and led 20-15 going in to the second period.

It was a physical battle throughout and by half the Bulldogs had pulled to within three, going into the locker room down just 24-21.

The Comanches’ largest lead was by 11 with 5:11 left in the third after they opened up the second half on an 11-4 run.

Up 54-44 with 2:41 left in the game, West Texas saw its double-digit lead almost dissolve. Thorndale dug deep and got to within 54-52 after back-to-back three pointers from Lane Niemtschk and Ashton Albert, the later coming with just 1:32 to go in the contest.

West Texas took advantage of Ty Prince and Albert fouling out of the game and went on a 7-3 run to end the game and earn the state title.

Thorndale and the Comanches both had 14 turnovers in the game.

Prince led the Bulldog effort with 16 points, four rebounds, five assists, one block and two steals.  Sam Reaves and Albert had 13 points each.  Reaves hit eight of 10 free throws that kept Thorndale within striking distance and also had five rebounds and an assist.  Albert also snagged four boards and a steal.

Logan Fisher put up six points and a steal and Lane Niemtschk came off the bench to add five points, three steals and an assist.

Mason Fisher was held to two points and one rebound.  He had been a force from the three-point line all season for the Bulldogs.  Ashton Schaefer had two boards and a steal, with Scott Guzman and Jesus Hernandez each snagging a rebound as well.

Thorndale shot 48.9 percent (22 of 45) from the field.  West Texas was just a bit better, hitting 52.6 percent (20 of 38).

Eight of the 12 members of the Bulldogs’ roster are seniors.  The only non-senior starter was junior guard Reaves.

“This group competed and competed and competed,” Kovar said. “They showed an incredible amount of heart the whole time.”

For the Comanches, Jalin Conyers and Gage Cassity joined Villanueva in double digit scoring, with 10 and 13 points, respectively.  Conyers hit eight of 13 free throws in the game, which were key in keeping West Texas in the lead late in the contest.

West Texas, winner of Region I, defeated Region III winner Shelbyville (32-5) 70-60 in their state semifinal on Friday morning.  It was the first appearance at the state tournament for West Texas in program history and the first for Shelbyville in 34 years.

Thorndale reached the championship game with a Friday morning semifinal win over Muenster (18-6).  The Bulldogs defeated the Region II winner and defending state champions 39-35.

Thorndale led 17-11 after the first quarter and 22-19 at the half.

Both teams adjusted well at the break defensively, but offensively they both struggled throughout the contest.  Overall, the Bulldogs shot just 32.6-percent from the field.  Muenster was not much better, hitting just 36.2 percent from the floor.

Coach Kovar attributed the below-average shooting to the Hornets’ tight defense.

“We talked about it at halftime: ‘As long as we keep playing great defense, we’re going to win this game,’ ” he said. “We talked about getting back on D and not giving them anything for free. I’d love to score a little bit more and shoot a little bit better, but as long as we defend like that, we’ll be fine.”

Thorndale’s defense made just five fouls in the entire contest, never sending the Hornets to the free throw line.

Prince recorded the final double-double of his high school career with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the state semifinal.  He also had an assist, a block and a steal.

His assist was to Mason Fisher, who hit a three-pointer with 3:14 left in the contest that broke a 33-33 tie and put Thorndale in the lead for good.

Albert and Reaves had seven points apiece.  Reaves collected five rebounds, four assists and a steal, with Albert adding two boards and two takeaways.  Logan Fisher scored four points to go along with his three rebounds and a steal.  Schaefer added two boards and a steal and Guzman grabbed one rebound.

Muenster lead for just 2:19 of the entire game and the biggest amount was by four points with 6:53 left in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs led by as much as eight, that at 7:39 left in the first half.

Danny Luttmer led the Hornets with 12 points in the loss.  John Weger added 10 points and nine rebounds.

The semifinal match was played in front of a crowd of almost 8,200 hoop fans.

For four of Thorndale’s seniors--Prince, Albert, Mason Fisher and Logan Fisher--it was the third state tournament appearance in their high school careers.

Thorndale reached the state tournament after clinching its third straight Region IV championship over district foe Mumford. The Bulldogs were the undefeated champions of District 25-2A. This season was the fourth straight regional final appearance for Thorndale.  It is the sixth state tournament appearance for the Bulldogs (2006-08, 2016-18).

Muenster, champion of 11-2A, had been at the state tournament four times (2014, 2016-18) and the last two season made it as far as the state title game.  Last season Muenster won the state title over Clarendon, who defeated Thorndale 59-35 in the semifinals.  In 2016, Canadian ousted Thorndale 47-46 in the semifinals and defeated Muenster 56-46 in the state title game.

This year’s state tourney appearance marked the 10th anniversary since Thorndale won its last of back-to-back boys’ basketball titles under the late coach Jeff Lieberman.

Thorndale had lost just three other times this season prior to Saturday’s title game.  The first two were in the Salado tournament--on Nov. 30 to Jarrell (63-46) and Dec. 2 to Salado (58-46). Jarrell was ranked No. 1 in 3A at the time of the game. The other was on Dec. 28 to Lipan (52-45) in the Tenaha tournament.  Lipan is the No. 1 ranked team in Class 1A and won that division’s state title on Saturday morning.