RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The Randolph Ramblers are back on the basketball court after a five-year hiatus, but they're making up for lost time with continued improvement.
Latest evidence of that came last weekend when they competed in the Joe B. Hall Classic Tournament at Lackland Air Force Base, where they finished 1-2. The Ramblers defeated Luke AFB 88-81 before falling to eventual champion Air Force Academy Preparatory School 80-50 and Brooks City-Base 68-66.
Head coach Larus Martin said playing in their first tournament was a good experience for his team as they search for an identity.
"They're playing good defense, taking care of the ball better and playing better as a unit," he said. "They're also playing to the end of the game."
Randolph and Luke traded leads throughout their game until the Falcons took an eight-point lead with about eight minutes left. At that point Martin called a timeout.
"We realized we needed to play very good defense and force some turnovers," he said.
The Ramblers responded with a run of their own and took the lead with three minutes left, never relinquishing it.
"Down the stretch we got some key stops," Martin said.
Point guard Jessie Byrd led the Ramblers with 22 points and center Reggie Dunn added 19.
Playing without Byrd in the second game, the Ramblers struggled against the athletic Prep Academy Huskies, who led by 13 at the half. Randolph drew within eight points in the second half, but the Prep Academy pulled away to win by 30 points.
"They played very well," Martin said of the Huskies. "They were able to rotate their personnel throughout the game."
Dunn paced the Ramblers with 14 points, followed by Nick Reese with 10.
Randolph had an opportunity to move on to the second day of the tournament by beating Brooks, but the steal of a Ramblers' in-bound pass with 17 seconds left allowed Brooks to break a 66-66 tie and secure the win.
"That was a very disappointing loss," Martin said. "We put ourselves in a position to win, but we didn't do it."
Dunn again led the Ramblers, this time with 24 points.
Randolph will continue play in the Southwest Military Athletic Conference this weekend when they host Dyess AFB. The Ramblers are 4-6 in league play, but Martin sees reason for optimism as his team continues its rebuilding process.
"We're a new team, so it's a learning experience," he said. "The players are trying to get to know each other better. They're hungry; they want to compete and they want to succeed."