Large senior class has Owls in playoff hunt
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Jan. 21, 2005 - YANTIS - Yantis senior Lupe Garcia was having back spasms so bad in Tuesday night's game with Avinger that he couldn't stand up straight to shoot his final two free throws.

He refused to come out, though, in scoring a team-high 17 points in the Owls' landmark win over Avinger.

That mentality, said Yantis head coach Harold Gilbreath, is one of the reasons the Owls are enjoying their best season in at least a decade and appear to be on the road to their first playoff appearance in 18 years.

"These guys are tough mentally and physically," Gilbreath said. "We were good at the end of the year last year, and six of our seven district losses were by a total of 21 points. It was strictly not knowing how to finish ball games off and to win.

"This is a good group of kids. They've really come together as a team and are playing well. Now, they're really starting to believe they're pretty good."

Garcia is one of 10 seniors playing basketball, a very high number for a Class A school, especially a Div. II program. The Owls are 17-5 overall and 4-1 in District 20-A, Div. II. Their only district loss was a three-point setback on the road against No. 11 Karnack, and their biggest win had to be on the road at Avinger on Tuesday.

Six Owls scored in double figures in that game, and on the season all four senior starters are averaging double figures in points. Colby Ogle leads the team with 13.5 points, followed by Garcia at 11.5, Corey Elliott at 11.0 and Jarrett Russell at 10.2 points.

But, despite the team averaging 60 points per game, the senior starters said it's the defense that makes the difference.

"Our defense is the strength of our team," said Russell, the son of former Sulphur Springs standout John Russell and grandson of former coach Jim Russell. "We run a half-court trap that leads to a lot of turnovers."

Russell leads the team in both steals (6.1 per game) and assists (6.8) with 6.1 steals per game, while Elliott is averaging a team-high 9.8 rebounds. Other seniors are Patrick McKinney, Miles Davis, Corey McMillan, Rogelio Olayo, Ryan Nolen and David Gonyea.

Having 10 seniors on the team has multiplied the maturity process, Gilbreath said.

"I think their maturity is a reason we're playing well," the coach explained. "This is the first time in the five years I've been here that I've had All-District kids coming back in Colby Ogle and Corey Elliott, and that's really a big boost.

"We've had almost all these guys since they were freshmen, and we've tried to put together a good program. Hopefully, it's just a good reflection on the school and the program we've got. We have kids who want to play, and they want to stay in the program."

He has 10 more juniors in the program and has eight to 10 in every class except the 10th grade. The JV boys on Tuesday ran their record to 14-1.

That kind of depth is hard for other teams to match, even Avinger which got 42 points from Tyrus Dowell but didn't have another scorer in double figures.

"Eight get pretty good minutes almost every night for us, and it's good to have that kind of depth in Class A, because a lot of teams don't," Gilbreath said. "I think our balance is the key. We had six kids in double figures Tuesday night. We don't have one kid that the other team can focus on and say, 'We've got to stop him and we'll shut them down.'

"Avinger has maybe the best kid in the district in Tyrus Dowell, but we had six kids in double figures, and I think that was the difference."

Ogle put his finger on the reason Yantis has had success in keeping so many seniors interested in the game.

"Love of the game has kept us in it. Most of the guys on the team have been playing since the third grade together," Ogle said. "We just love to play together."

The reason the Owls have been able to win games this season that they couldn't finish in the past is because of intensity and composure Elliott said. But, Ogle had a different take:

"We're freaking awesome," he said. "That's what I'm going with."

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