Bulldogs play district mate in Thursday semis, could win title at 1 p.m. Friday
For the first time in school history, the Yavneh Bulldogs have made the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state tournament.
The boys’ basketball team (30-3) easily swept aside Denton Calvary and Willow Park Trinity in the first two rounds of the TAPPS Class 3A playoffs to reach state, which begins with a semifinal showdown against district mate Dallas Covenant (18-9) at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 2 at Abilene Christian University’s Moody Coliseum.
Should the Bulldogs win that game, they will face the victor of the 11 a.m. game between Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills (26-6) and Beaumont Legacy Christian (14-10) at 1 p.m. Friday at the same location.
“There’s such an incredible excitement around the school,” Coach David Zimmerman said. “Just a lot of pride for the community and for the school. Players are very excited. This group constantly goes about it in a very mature way.”
But if Zimmerman and the Bulldogs want that excitement to continue into Friday, they’re going to have to defeat a team three times in one season.
Dallas Covenant finished third in TAPPS District 3-3A with pairs of losses to Yavneh and Rockwall Christian, the top two squads. Yavneh is well versed in Covenant’s game plan since the schools are only one zip code apart. In fact, the Covenant coach jokingly asked Zimmerman if they wanted to swap tape.
“A lot of these kids played middle school ball together,” Zimmerman said.
Many Yavneh fans have reason to feel a state title berth is within reach: The Bulldogs dominated both meetings with Dallas Covenant during district play. Yavneh won both by an average of 23 points.
However, Dallas Covenant has made a renewed push in the playoffs, having defeated Midland Classical, 59-52, and Fort Worth Calvary Christian, 61-41, which knocked fellow district mate Rockwall Heritage Christian out of the playoffs.
Zimmerman also cautioned his team against that line of logic.
“A lot of people get caught up in this ‘We beat them by a lot’ talk … but I expect a great effort from them.”
Yavneh’s X-factor has been Griffin Levine, who has scored 47 points in the Bulldogs’ two playoff games. However, Zimmerman knows his odds of winning the state title drastically improve if everyone’s playing well.
“We haven’t gotten to the point where everyone is playing great on the same night,” he said. “If that happens, I can just let them play.
“If someone gets into foul trouble, they pick each other up. If we rely on one player or two players, we’re going to get in trouble. If we can get four, five, six players to play well at once, then the sky is the limit.”
Yavneh opened its playoff run with a 76-54 victory over Denton Calvary. The Bulldogs roared out to a 21-11 lead in the first quarter and won every frame after that. Griffin Levine set the pace early and often, driving to the lane, spotting up for outside shots and connecting with open teammates for assists. He finished with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
While Levine was putting the Lions’ defenders on skates, Noah Rubinstein was making room inside. The senior posted up big Lion James Helzer several times and out-worked most of the Lions for eight rebounds. Daniel Chernikov was right behind at seven rebounds part of a productive, 34-rebound evening for the Bulldogs.
Calvary made one final push in the third quarter, cutting the lead to nine, but Levine scored four straight points to end the threat.
Those that stayed to the end got to see a glimpse of the future.
Freshman Tyler Winton, who was recently called up from the junior varsity squad, came off the bench and scored 5 points in the final 22 seconds.
“It was tough for me because we didn’t really want him to shoot that three. We didn’t want to run up the score, but it was great to see him make it,” Zimmerman said. “It was his first varsity action ever. For him to come in and have that confidence, hit those free throws and hit that three, that was great to see. He’s going to be a great player for us.”
Against Willow Park Trinity, Levine started the game with an even more dominant performance: a 12-2 first-quarter lead. Yavneh rolled to a 33-16 halftime mark and held off any comeback in the second half for the 63-45 win.
Levine was electric again, scoring 22 points, while Chernikov added 16 and Zach Epstein scored 12. Rubinstein led all rebounders with 9 and also had a team-high six assists.
As the final buzzer sounded, Yavneh fans rushed the floor to celebrate their team’s ascendancy into the top four of the state.
Yavneh’s girls’ basketball team made the playoffs, but lost in the first round to Midland Classical, 68-25. Anna Wernick scored 10 points to lead Yavneh in the defeat. The girls will look to build upon their return to the playoffs in the 2017-18 season.