The Port Arthur News
Playoffs often make for strange bedfellows, but when the Nederland boys take on Magnolia Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Kingwood Park they’ll be looking into a slightly distorted mirror.
Besides the obvious mascot similarities (both are Bulldogs), both teams finished tied for their respective district leads and both suffered disappointing late season losses that sapped some momentum from their closing pushes. Magnolia followed up an important home victory over District 17-4A champ Brenham with a 68-56 loss to Montgomery.
Since Magnolia had previously lost in Brenham, the two teams played a tiebreaker game, which Brenham won 72-65. That meant Magnolia was bumped to the second seed from the district and matched up with Humble Summer Creek in bidistrict play, a game they won 69-45.
The last time the two teams met in the playoffs, Nederland beat Magnolia 64-53 in the area round in 2010. Part of the reason for the lack of postseason matchups is that Magnolia had only one playoff victory since 1972 before this season. That one came against Manor in 2009.
Magnolia, 26-9 on the season, is led by a trio of players in 6-foot-5 sophomore Josh Bearden, 5-foot-9 senior Jesse Jones and 6-foot-1 senior Alex Hardee. In that sense, Magnolia should prove a different challenge than Dayton did in the bidistrict round, as Dayton featured many tall players with long arms that disrupted the passing lanes early.
However, Magnolia will also feature one of the tallest players Nederland has seen this season in 6-foot-9 senior post Gabe Rueda. Rueda makes up a group of eight senior players in Magnolia’s rotation, which gives them more experience than Nederland’s young group.
Jones is also Magnolia’s all-time leading scorer, which is a very impressive note for a school that was established in 1912. Jones has averaged 13 points per game in the last three, including a 12-point effort against Summer Creek. He and Rueda, who was the district defensive MVP last season, should prove stiff competition for both Zach English and Colton Weisbrod.
Luckily for Nederland, which is 28-7, both of its star players are coming off great all-around games. English ignited Nederland’s fourth quarter comeback against Dayton with his 3-point marksmanship and should have an edge on Jones in height to free him for more 3-point opportunities in this one.
While Weisbrod may be outpointed by the numbers against Rueda, don’t expect him to be denied in the post. Against a taller Dayton squad, Weisbrod was a big reason why Nederland held a rebounding edge by the end of the game, using his strength to outmuscle the Broncos for key rebounds.
If Nederland beats Magnolia, it will be the second straight trip to the regional quarterfinals for head coach Brian English’s squad. The Nederland boss will also be that much closer to a milestone of his own, as the seventh-year head coach currently has 248 career victories.
Give the elder English plenty of the credit for his team’s victory over Dayton, too. The Dayton game plan put many of their big players on the perimeter to harry Nederland’s ball handlers like Zach English and Jamiere Rogers. It may have taken them some time, but Nederland did break through that pressure, which was a big part of that 29-point push in the fourth quarter.
More than just the X’s and O’s, though, it was the team chemistry English has nurtured that proved to be the difference in the bidistrict matchup. While Dayton’s guard duo of Gamal Fowler and Jacarius Keener took most of the shots down the stretch for the Broncos, Nederland had four or five different players make key plays down the stretch.
What’s more, some of those key plays involved finding teammates with passes for easy buckets, something Dayton did not do at times in the end of the game, as Fowler and Keener each traded shots without getting their teammates involved.
That kind of team cohesiveness could play a big role in overcoming a team like Magnolia, which should in turn get English a bit closer to a coaching milestone.