RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Battling injuries and adversity, the Randolph High School Ro-Hawks basketball team has turned their season around with tenacity and teamwork.
With two starters injured early in the season and two starters who played last year not coming back, Randolph coach Tim Gendron has had to make some changes to his lineup while trying to remain competitive in tough District 29-2A.
"I have had to move up players from the junior varsity," Gendron said. "I got kids from the junior varsity who are starting and playing significant roles that I did not anticipate having to put them in. But I can't complain; the kids have been playing hard. Their resilience and intensity has been their strength."
After starting the season 2-6, the Ro-Hawks have improved to 9-9 and have a strong chance of making the playoffs after beating the Nixon-Smiley Mustangs, 60-41, Tuesday at Randolph High School gym. The win over the Mustangs put the Ro-Hawks at 3-1 in district and in a four-way tie for first.
The Ro-Hawks defeated Nixon-Smiley after losing to Karnes City, 65-60, in Karnes City on Jan. 4., which is Randolph's only district loss so far this season.
Gendron said the Ro-Hawks were struggling in December before back-to-back wins against Ingram, 49-48, in overtime on Dec. 11 and on the road against Johnson City, 40-39, on Dec. 14 turned Randolph's season around.
Gendron said the Johnson City game proved to be a gut check test the Ro-Hawks passed with flying colors.
"In the last minute and a half our kids came through," he said.
Against Johnson City the Ro-Hawks trailed for most of the game until guard Stephen Pompa connected on a three-pointer with less than a minute left in the game. After Johnson City regained the lead, forward Mark Hopkins was fouled with four seconds left and made the game-winning free throws.
Coming off the Johnson City win, the Ro-Hawks won their first two games against Kenedy, 46-32, on Dec. 18 and Poth, 65-61, on Dec. 21. After the Christmas holidays, the Ro-Hawks competed in the Natalia Tournament where they won third place by beating Poteet 53-46.
When the season started, Hopkins, a junior, was the only returning starter in the lineup. He led the Ro-Hawks with 21 points in Tuesday's win against Nixon-Smiley.
Coming off an injury, senior guard Jared Cornish has sparked the Ro-Hawks. Cornish was named to the all-tournament team at Natalia and scored 14 points against Nixon-Smiley.
The Ro-Hawks are back to full strength after their other returning starter, senior forward Julius Rivera, came back from his injury.
Because of the injuries to Cornish and Rivera, junior guard Kyle McNally, senior guard Lenue Gilchrist, junior post D'Mario Noble and sophomore forward Matt Atwell played in the starting lineup.
Throughout the season the Ro-Hawks have been supported by bench players Pompa, senior forward C Stoker, junior post Logan DeWitt and junior guard Justin Nadeau.
"We are trying to get the young kids experienced," Gendron said. "These kids play with intensity, they are coachable and they work hard."
Gendron said the Ro-Hawks need to harness all the intensity, teamwork and hustle to compete for the district title or grab one of the three playoff spots. Randolph is in a four-way battle for first with Poth, Navarro and Karnes City.
"We can compete for a playoff spot if we continue to improve," Gendron said.
Randolph continues district play tonight when they play at Stockdale at 8 p.m. The Ro-Hawks return home Tuesday to play Navarro.