By GARY STALLARD
Saturday's regular-season and home finale for the Angelina College Roadrunners won't just feature a tribute to sophomores nor a team simply playing out its year.
Saturday's game still has plenty of meaning behind it.
Having already clinched a berth in the upcoming Region XIV Conference Tournament, the Roadrunners are hoping for a night off in the form of a first-round bye on the tournament's opening day on Tuesday.
Currently, AC is riding a six-game winning streak and is tied for second place in the South Zone with Lamar State College-Port Arthur. If the Seahawks lose to Jacksonville on Saturday, AC will clinch the bye. If Lamar-PA wins, the 'Runners simply have to beat Lee College at Shands Gymnasium to skip out on first-round action.
Keying the late-season winning streak has been a brand of defense leaving opponents frustrated and at a literal loss. In seven of AC's past eight games, the 'Runners have held opponents to fewer than 70 points – a remarkable achievement in a high-scoring league.
Head coach Nick Wade says there have been no major adjustments to the team's approach; rather, it's simply a measure of his players' commitments to one another.
"It's a process of continuing to get better, but more than anything, the guys are playing for the guys next to them," Wade said. "They want to send our sophomores out on a high note.
"But they also want to be mentioned in the conversation as one of the better teams in Region XIV. Not many people were talking about us at the beginning of the season."
Another element carrying the team to success is Wade's insistence – stated before the team had even held its first official practice – that players give everything they have for however long they're on the floor. In Wednesday's win over first-place Jacksonville College, no player embodied that mantra more than Ovidio Perez, who fought his way to 17 rebounds despite facing a distinct size disadvantage in the paint.
"If you're going to play here, you have to be tough, and Ovidio is a tough kid," Wade said." Every night, we have to have someone different step up and make plays, and he has such a huge heart. He's a guy who makes those plays for us.
"Unless you're around the team, you don't realize how close they are. They really care about each other. You see that on the court more than anything. In the dog days of the season, they're leaning on family as much as heart, and that more than anything makes us a scary team right now."
Saturday's game against Lee College tips off at 4 p.m. at Shands Gymnasium. Prior to tip-off, the team will honor sophomores Kevin Norman, Markus Stevenson, Deedy Gauno, Kenan Jackson and Hunter Janacek.
Viewers can catch the action via live streaming by logging onto angelinaathletics.com.
The e-mail address for AC's Sports Information Director is email@example.com.