Dec. 31—You have to hand it to Blooming Grove.
The folks who run the athletic program there (AKA Blooming Grove Athletic Director Jeremy Gant and his staff) don't just put teams on the fields, diamonds and basketball courts, they strive to build a solid athletic program.
That was more than evident Thursday night when the Lady Lions and Lions both took home third-place trophies in the Kiwanis Classic.
With a bit of luck and a different path in the brackets, both teams from the Grove might have been in the championship games.
Still, the Lions and Lady Lions made their point with strong performances to reach Thursday night's third-place stage.
Eric Blendon's Lions, who lost to Dawson 70-69 in a thrilling Kiwanis Classic title game a year ago in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
Many expected a possible rematch in the title game, but Dawson faced Blooming Grove in the opening round on Tuesday afternoon and was sent to the consolation round after another tight battle, losing 55-52 in a game that came down to the final seconds when BG's Emmanuel Rosas nailed two free throws to close the deal.
Rosas led the way for the Lions against Kerens Thursday, scoring 17 points, and Jace Trull followed with 15 to help defeat the Bobcats.
Kerens' young team was led by Musiq Gunnell, who scored eight points, and Nehemiah Massey, who scored six against a tough BG defense.
The Lady Lions, who have turned the program around under second-year coach Jarred Shaffer, made the most of their appearance in Thursday night's spotlight, running away from a young Kerens team, 68-48, taking another big step to where Shaffer wants to take the program.
"I was really proud of the way the girls played collectively as a whole," said Shaffer, who took over a program that won a total of four games in the previous two seasons (two wins a year). His girls won their 14th game of the season Thursday.
"We took a step forward and are on the right track to achieving our ultimate goal of a playoff spot.
"The girls have flipped a switch mentally and are ready to go to work," he said. "I enjoy coaching these girls a lot because they let me coach them hard and they want to be pushed. They're a really fun group."
Shaffer has a young and talented team.
The McGraw Twins — Brooke and Janey — who get better every day, are only sophomores. Alyssa Stout, another sophomore, led the Lady Lions with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal in their 56-16 opening round win over Corsicana's JV team.
There's plenty of scoring and savvy from seniors Audrey Grant and Tiana Glenn and then there's Ava Eldridge, a junior who runs the offense and leads the defense — a natural leader who is simply determined to win while playing hard-nose defense and an unselfish brand of basketball that makes everyone better.
Grant led the Lady Lions Thursday, going inside for 16 points and Brooke McGraw had a big night rebounding (eight boards) to go along with 13 points. Glenn, who was once again smooth and steady, dropped in 13 — and Ava was Ava, leading a defense that allowed a total of 44 points in their two Kiwanis Classic victories.
Blooming Grove gets no rest as both teams dive right back into District 18-3A play, traveling to Malakoff Tuesday and facing Mildred at home Friday in two key showdown doubleheaders.
The Kerens girls go right into district play, facing Cayuga at home Friday and traveling to Martin's Mill Jan. 13 before hooking up with the Bobcats for district doubleheaders, beginning with a home doubleheader on Jan. 13 against Cross Roads.