Author: Evan Ren

Evan Ren’s 2023 Gym Rat Team: The hardest-working players in the Big Country!

Following a basketball program on the surface can only provide one with so much insight. Behind the scenes, however, is where character is often measured. And it is with our Gym Rat Team that we wish to tip our caps to those individuals who exuded the most of it. 

This team isn’t about who the best players are, though some of the area’s top players did make this list. 

The Gym Rat team is about effort, discipline, toughness, coachability and selflessness — traits that coaches love above all else and that championship foundations are built upon.

It is for that reason that our Gym Rat team is selected entirely by area coaches, described in their own words. And Big Country Preps is absolutely honored to present these individuals to you — the best “team players” (boys and girls) that the area had to offer during the 2022-23 season.

Players are listed in no particular order. 

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2023 All-Big Country Preps Boys Basketball Rising Stars Team, the top freshmen and sophomores in the area!

Here is our 2023 All-Big Country Preps Boys Basketball Rising Stars Team, comprised of the top freshmen and sophomores in the area. For the rest of this year’s boys and girls basketball selections, click the links below.

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2023 All-Big Country Preps Girls Basketball Team: Rising Stars Team, the top freshmen and sophomores in the area!

Here is our 2023 All-Big Country Preps girls basketball Rising Stars team, comprised of the top freshmen and sophomores in the area. For the rest of this year’s boys and girls basketball selections, click the links below.

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sweetwater senior captures five medals and our award

“Damarrius Walker is a very talented young man,” Sweetwater coach Brian Hodnett said. “There isn’t much in track and field that he can’t do!

“We as a staff are excited to see how far he can go this year.”

So is the rest of the area as our Big Country Preps Player of the Week collects the award after scoring 44 points individually at the Hamlin Pied Piper Relays last week. 

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GAME STORY: Hamlin holds off Haskell with homers, big defensive plays

HAMLIN — In the aftermath of Hamlin’s 10-6 win over area rival Haskell in Friday’s District 7-2A softball opener, dissecting what had just taken place was an exercise in answering a key question. 

Yes, the Lady Pipers won, propelled by an eight-run second inning, a solid pitching effort from Zoe Moore and home runs by Samantha Gonzalez and Roxanne Rivera. But what if Haskell (11-8-1, 0-1) doesn’t hit into four inning-killing double plays? 

The answer is that Friday’s matchup could have taken a much different turn at several key points, but Hamlin (14-4, 1-0) was the club that executed at every one of them.

“It’s frustrating, but I think they realize where we can improve and the things we need to work on in order to win a game like this,” Haskell coach Emily Dyes said. “We’ve got some good hitters, but we’ve got to get better defensively and minimize our errors every game.” 

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FEATURE: Duniven-Moore combo returns to fuel Hamlin softball

HAMLIN — In 2022, the Hamlin softball team enjoyed what was arguably its best season ever, finishing the year with a 24-7 mark and a loss to Stamford in the Region I-2A championship game. 

The Lady Pipers finished one win away from the first state tournament trip in program history. Understandably, that is a focal point in 2023, and nowhere is that more evident in than in the battery combo of pitcher Zoe Moore and catcher Emily Duniven — a pair of college-bound seniors facing their final opportunity to leave their mark on a burgeoning program. 

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GAME STORY: Lopez’s walk-off ninth-inning homer gives Lady ‘Horns crucial win over Brock

EARLY — It took nine innings and more than two hours to come to a conclusion, but Tuesday’s District 8-3A softball showdown between Early and Brock lived up to its expectations. 

With the score knotted at 2-2, Early’s Teagan Lopez drove a pitch from Melanie Middleton over the fence in dead center to drive home Jordan Simmons with a game-winning two-run walk-off homer in a 4-2 victory at EHS.

With the win, Early (13-2, 3-0) takes possession of first place in the district race while Brock (8-10-1, 2-1) slips off the pace by a game. 

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Fincannon fires perfecto and no-hitter to take this week’s award

You know you’re on a roll when you throw a no-hitter and it’s your second-best performance of the week. 

That was the case for Hico junior pitcher Kiersten Fincannon, not only threw a no-hitter in a 24-0 win over Meridian, but also tossed a perfect game in a 22-0 rout of Itasca. 

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GAME STORY: Jayton defense shuts down McMullen County, sends Jaybirds to title game

SAN ANTONIO — The Jayton Jaybirds were concerned about navigating their way through a trapping defense from Tilden McMullen County in Thursday’s Class 1A state semifinal. And as it turned out, their worries were legitimate after being forced into 14 giveways.

Jayton, however, had an answer — limiting the Cowboys to only 29.2 percent shooting (14-48) to negate the extra possessions in a 46-36 win at the Alamodome. 

Nathaniel Williams scored a game-high 26 points and Sean Stanaland added eight more to lead Jayton (38-2), which will face top-ranked defending state champion Graford in the title game at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. 

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GAME STORY: Graford uses big fourth quarter to end Benjmin’s dream season in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — The Benjamin Mustangs had the environment they wanted while making their debut at the UIL Boys Basketball State Championships against Graford on Thursday — an up-tempo, guard-oriented game with the ball often changing hands near the midcourt area. 

There was just one problem: The Mustangs fell victim to too many of their own unforced errors to take advantage of the situation, falling to the defending state champions in a 66-42 state semifinal loss. 

Christian Shea scored 18 points, Brad Lemley added 17 and Colin Roberts had 14 to lead Graford (34-3), which advances to face Jayton (38-2) for the Class 1A state title at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. Leading 41-35 heading into the final quarter, the Jackrabbits blew open what had been a competitive game with a 25-7 tally through the final eight minutes. 

Benjamin closed its season at 21-2, led by a game-high 36 points from Grayson Rigdon. 

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CLASS 1A STATE SEMIFINAL PREVIEW: Jayton, Benjamin head to San Antonio pursuing title

SAN ANTONIO — In terms of style and experience, you’d be hard-pressed to find a wider variance than the Big Country’s two representatives — Jayton and Benjamin — at this year’s UIL Boys Basketball State Championships. 

But while their approaches are radically different, the success rate of each is nearly the same.

For Jayton, the big stage is nothing new. The defensive-minded, balanced-scoring Jaybirds, who qualified for their eighth regional in nine seasons this year, are now making their third appearance at state since 2019. For coach Ryan Bleiker, this is his fourth trip to a state semi, having also guided Rule there in 2008.

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Hamlin lefty takes this week’s award

Softball tournaments can distort the significance of pitching accomplishments due to inning caps or time limits, rendering perfect games or no-hitters into half-versions of their true selves. 

However, there is no denying that tournaments are work, especially for pitchers, and our Big Country Preps Player of the Week, Hamlin southpaw Zoe Moore, earned the accolade with a 4-0 record in the Wichita Falls Sunrise Optimist Tournament last week.

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GAME STORY: Jayton relies on defense to stop Lorenzo in Region I-1A Championship

lORENZOLEVELLAND — With Lorenzo breathing down their necks for 32 straight minutes, the Jayton Jaybirds turned to an old friend to punch their ticket to San Antonio in Saturday’s Region I-1A championship game.

Defense, both timely and consistent, remained in the Jaybirds’ corner, lifting them to a 56-47 win at South Plains College. 

Nathaniel Williams scored a game-high 26 points while Sean Stanaland and Griff Reel added seven apiece to lead Jayton (37-2) which will face Tilden McMullen County (37-2) at 10 a.m. on Thursday in the Class 1A State Semifinals in the Alamodome. The winner will face either Benjamin (21-1) or Graford (35-3) in Saturday’s state championship game at 8:30 a.m. 

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GAME STORY: Jayton creates unHappy evening for Cowboys in 61-42 regional win

LEVELLAND — Few expected unranked Happy to reach a regional tournament and perhaps even fewer gave the Cowboys a shot at topping second-ranked Jayton in Friday’s Region I-1A semifinal at South Plains College. 

Whatever pregame doubts may have existed, Jayton quickly put a stop to all of them by gaining a permanent upperhand in the opening quarter on the way to a 61-42 win. 

Ben Blankenship scored 14 points and Sean Stanaland added 12 more to lead Jayton (36-2), which will face No. 15 Lorenzo (26-10) for the regional title on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

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BIG COUNTRY GIRLS TRACK FORECAST: Who are the top girls athletes to watch in 2023?

The Big Country takes its track and field quite seriously and the results often prove it, with a multitude of team and individual state championships collected by area athletes over the years. 

Soon, the sound of starters pistols will be ringing throughout the area as we once again begin the process of seeing who will represent their schools and the entire Big Country area at the state meet in Austin. 

So let’s see how everyone stacks up, shall we? 

Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of this year’s top returnees, along with their personal best times and distances from last year. 

Enjoy. We’ll see you at the track. 

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Big Spring senior chalks up four victories and our weekly award

It’s always a good sign early in the season when you’re getting good pitching against quality competition. And in the case of the Big Spring Lady Steers, the numbers in the circle thus far are downright encouraging. 

Courtesy of senior Alexcia Munoz, the Lady Steers are off to a 5-1 start, including a 4-0 mark from Munoz in last week’s Abilene Icebreaker tournament.

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GAME STORY: Holliday ends Jim Ned run in Region I-3A championship game

WOLFFORTH —While 6-foot-2 Holliday post Jalynn Bristow was projected to be major challenge for Jim Ned in Saturday’s Region 1-3A championship game, the Iowa State signee may have exceeded expectations. 

Pouring in 24 points (nearly half of her team’s total), Bristow led the Lady Eagles to a 53-40 win to eliminate Jim Ned and push Holliday to the UIL State Tournament. This, despite landing in second half foul trouble and being forced to sit out much of the fourth quarter on the bench. 

Jim Ned closed its season with a 35-2 mark, capped by its fifth straight appearance in a regional tournament. Emma Doran led the Lady Indians with 11 points; Lexi Wishert added nine. 

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GAME REPORT: Youthful Stephenville falls to Canyon in Region I-4A semfinals

LUBBOCK — With only two seniors and two juniors surrounded by a host of sophomores and freshmen, few were expecting to see the Stephenville Honey Bees in this year’s Region I-4A semifinals.

Nonetheless, Stephenville was at Lubbock Christian University on Friday taking on No. 4 Canyon. But as fate would have it, the ‘Bees were finally toppled, 49-31 to close a remarkable 32-5 campain. 

Sydnee Winfrey and Jaylee Moss dropped in 11 points apiece and Shaylin Schulte added eight more to lead Canyon (32-3), which advances to face top-ranked Glen Rose for the regional title. 

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GAME STORY: Jim Ned eliminates Idalou, advances to Region I-3A title game

WOLFFORTH — A slow start, a hostile crowd and regional semifinal pressure were all in a day’s work for the Jim Ned Lady Indians, who overcame all three handicaps to eliminate Idalou 47-33 on Friday at Frenship High School’s Tiger Pit. 

Lexi Wishert had 17 points, including three 3-pointers and Ashlynn Galvin added 10 more to lead Jim Ned (32-1), which now advances to face Holliday (31-3) in the Region I-3A title game on Saturday at 1 p.m.  

Idalou was led by Logan Heard with 15 points and Maddie Holmes with seven. The Lady Cats finished their season at 25-13.

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BIG COUNTRY GIRLS BASKETBALL REGIONAL PREVIEW: Seven area teams head to regionals

There are two constants when speaking about the girls basketball regional tournaments from the Big Country perspective.

First, we are almost guaranteed to have representation at the regional level — partly due to talent and partly due to the sheer volume of teams the Big Country houses (nearly 80).  And secondly, surviving beyond this point is usually a crapshoot, with one monstrous team after another blocking the road to San Antonio. 

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GAME STORY: Stephenville eliminates Estacado, advances to Region I-4A semifinals

CLYDE — Outgunned athletically, both in terms of size and quickness by Lubbock Estacado, the Stephenville Honey Bees had to fall back on an old standby to win Tuesday’s Region I-4A quarterfinal: team defense. 

Though it took the better part of four quarters to achieve it, 10th-ranked Stephenville finally put the Lady Matadors in their rearview mirror, topping Estacado 55-43 at the Clyde High School gym. 

Mya Wilson scored 21 points and Lillie Skiles added 11 more to lead Stephenville (32-4), which now advances to the Region I-4A semifinals at Lubbock Christian University where they will face fourth-ranked Canyon (31-3) on Friday at 6:30 p.m. 

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GAME STORY: Glen Rose holds off Sweetwater bi-district upset bid, 49-40

CISCO — After having swept through District 6-4A with an 8-0 mark, few who follow area basketball were expecting Glen Rose to struggle in its Region I-4A bi-district matchup with fourth-seeded Sweetwater on Monday night. 

Nonetheless, the Tigers got all they wanted from a Mustang team that finished 5-5 in District 5. By night’s end, Glen Rose prevailed 49-40, but not before a boisterous crowd got its money’s worth at Ray Saunders Gym. 

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Hawley’s O’Shields takes this week’s award

While Hawley’s Kason O’Shields is better known for his prowess on a football field, the HHS senior is actually a remarkable all-around athlete who is capable of having an impact in a variety of different sports. 

This week is a prime example of that, as O’Shields takes our Big Country Preps Player of the Week award for the week ending February 18. 

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GAME STORY: Huge Plowgirl rally falls short in tough area round loss to Sundown

POST — Plagued by an early case of nerves that led to missed shots from pointblank range and multiple turnovers, the Roscoe Plowgirls had dug a first-half hole for themselves in Friday’s 2A area round clash with Sundown. 

By night’s end, Roscoe came close enough to put a serious scare into Sundown, but eventually fell 56-47 at Antelope Arena. 

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GAME STORY: Westbrook, Highland sweep bi-district girls doubleheader at Winters

WINTERS — Beware of No. 3 seeds from tough districts. It’s been a hard lesson learned by multiple teams each year, the latest of which are the Cross Plains Lady Buffaloes, who were eliminated by third-seeded Westbrook in a girls Class 1A bi-district game on Tuesday, 35-32 at the Winters High School gym. 

Westbrook’s victory was followed by another for District 14-1A, which closed the evening with 57-22 win by Roscoe Highland over May in the nightcap. 

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GAME STORY: Merkel girls eliminate nervous Brady, 54-33

WINTERS — On paper, everything was on Brady’s side heading into Monday’s 54-33 loss to Merkel in the Class 3A girls bi-district round.

The second-seeded Lady Bulldogs had momentum, winning five of their last six games, while third-seeded Merkel was on a downswing, having lost three straight. 

There was just one problem: Merkel, which is housed in District 6 with the likes of No. 2 Jim Ned and No. 15 Wall, isn’t your run-of-the-mill third seed.  And the Lady Badgers quickly demonstrated that in a convincing win at Winters High School.

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Coleman’s Smith takes this week’s award

With our recent bad weather pushing an extra game into last week for the Coleman Bluecats, it gave senior guard Braxton Smith three chances to pile up big numbers. 

And he did exactly that. 

Our Big Country Preps Player of the Week opened with 19 points and nine steals in a win over Bangs last Monday. He followed that with 13 points, eight assists and 10 steals in a near-triple double in a win over Winters. 

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THIS WEEK IN BIG COUNTRY GIRLS BASKETBALL: Playoffs open with multiple bi-district matchups worth looking at

The second season has arrived. 

The Texas high school girls playoffs will get underway Monday and Tuesday with bi-district play. And as always, dozens of Big Country teams are taking part in the dance, which will conclude at the UIL State Tournament in San Antonio beginning on Thursday, March 2. 

With that, let’s take a look at some of the top early matchups involving area teams. And don’t forget to click the link at the bottom of the page which will take you to our pairings list. 

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GAME STORY: Stamford girls stop Cisco in District 10-2A tiebreaker behind 28-point night from Applin

CLYDE — Having split their two regular season meetings and ending in a first-place tie, it was time for the Cisco and Stamford girls basketball teams to settle the issue on Friday in a District 10-2A tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed. 

By night’s end, it was Stamford leaving the Clyde gym with the league title, behind a 28-point effort from Laylonna Applin in a 58-52 win. Deavine Hoadley tossed in 11 points and Lainee Lefevere added 10 more to help the Lady Bulldogs improve to 29-4 overall. 

Cisco (25-7) was led by Brooklyn Hurtado with 14 points and Brayley Brunson with 10.  The Lady Loboes were hurt by 15 Stamford steals and more than 20 turnovers, yet still managed to give themselves a shot at winning the game in the fourth quarter.

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Big Country Boys Basketball Statistical Leaders (through Feb. 9): Scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, FT Pct., pass deflections and blocks

Below are the current season statistical leaders for Big Country boys basketball through Feb. 9.

This database will be continually updated for our subscribers throughout the regular season, using only those statistics submitted by area coaches.

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