PONDER — At the Class 2A level, the best teams hope to have one dominant post presence on their roster.
At Ponder, the Lions don’t stop at one.
As one of the most dominant programs in 2A basketball over the years, the Lions head to Austin today and will begin play in the UIL state tournament Friday with an 8:30 a.m. tipoff against Aransas Pass in the first of two 2A semifinals.
The Lions’ success in Austin will hinge greatly on the play of their two starting big men, Clay Morgan and Josh Peterson, who have used their size to cruise past opponents this year and hit the state tournament as the state’s fourth-ranked team, according to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.
Morgan is one of the best players in the classification. A three-year starter, the 6-6 post performer is averaging 19.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and with two possible games remaining is 33 points shy of finishing his career with 2,000. Morgan is joined in the starting lineup by Peterson, a fellow senior who’s listed at 6-6 but stands about a quarter-inch taller.
“Usually, your average team has one tall guy that might be 6-5,” Peterson said. “That guy is probably going to go up against Clay, and Clay will still score. That puts a 6-2 guy on me. Vice versa, too. If I start scoring and they switch, then Clay will completely dominate the other guy.”
Peterson has averaged just 6.2 points this season to go with five rebounds per game, but Ponder coach Jude Stanley said Peterson has stepped up in a big way as the playoffs have moved on.
That was evident at last week’s Class 2A Region II tournament, when Peterson hit two free throws with under a second remaining to send the Lions to their eighth state tournament with a victory over district rival Brock.
In regional tournament wins over New Boston and Brock, Peterson scored 10 and 12 points, respectively. Stanley said the uptick in Peterson’s game has been noticeable late in the season.
“Josh has been our heart and soul this year from a leadership standpoint, and now in the playoffs his play on the court is matching the leadership he’s had all year,” Stanley said. “Against the top teams in the state, he’s played his best basketball. He’s risen to the biggest challenges. I can’t really phrase it any better than that.”
Morgan said Peterson’s recent play has given the Lions a boost at the right time.
“I think he understands this is his last time playing,” Morgan said. “We have a good chance, and he doesn’t want us to not reach our full potential.”
As for Morgan, the skilled scorer has grabbed headlines since emerging on the local scene as a sophomore. If Ponder (30-7) ends up punching a ticket to Saturday’s state final against Tatum or Bushland, Morgan almost certainly would reach the 2,000-point milestone for his career.
Other than Morgan’s size and post moves, he’s a great foul shooter, as is Peterson, for a player his size. Morgan is shooting free throws at a 72 percent clip this season but was close to 80 percent as a junior.
“Guys who approach that 2,000-point milestone are a rarity,” Stanley said. “That’s [foul shooting] a big reason why he can score that much. You’re a big man, you get fouled and get to the line, and if you can make those you’re going to score.”
Stanley knows that at the most he has two games remaining with his two big men, and he hopes to see their careers end on the highest note possible.
“What better way to put the icing on the cake of your career than to end your career at the Frank Erwin Center,” Stanley said. “They’re going to end their career there no matter what — win, lose or draw. We hope to put the final cherry on top with a state championship.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.