PLAYOFF TIME: The Academy Bumblebees (24-9) begin the Class 3A boys basketball playoffs with a bi-district game against the Fairfield Eagles (16-13) at 7:30 tonight at Waco Midway. Bumblebees seniors Cooper Shackelford (left), Cole Shackelford, Jareese White, Scout Brazeal and Lance Wille are pictured after Academy's 69-32 win over Rockdale last Tuesday on senior night at The Hive. Coach James Holt's Bees went 12-2 in District 19-3A to finish as the runner-up to unbeaten champion Lorena (28-5), ranked third in the state. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – After winning 24 games and placing second in District 19-3A, the Academy Bumblebees now seek to produce another extended run in the Class 3A boys basketball playoffs.
Academy (24-9) takes on 20-3A No. 3 seed Fairfield (13-16) in a bi-district game scheduled for 7:30 tonight at Midway Arena on the campus of Waco Midway.
The Bees of seventh-year head coach James Holt compiled a 12-2 record in 19-3A to finish as runner-up to third-ranked Lorena (28-5), which went 14-0 while winning its league games by an average of 24.7 points.
Lorena’s Leopards will play the first game of tonight’s first-round doubleheader at Midway, taking on 20-3A fourth seed Groesbeck (19-13) at 6.
The Academy-Fairfield winner will advance to the area round later this week to meet the victor of Tuesday’s bi-district matchup between 18-3A champion Palmer (26-4) and 17-3A fourth seed Grandview (20-13).
Academy advanced to the 3A Region III quarterfinals or beyond in each of its previous four seasons, highlighted by a trek to the state semifinals in 2021. The Bees reached the third round a year ago before losing to Franklin.
Lorena snapped Academy’s streak of four consecutive district championships, all of which came in undefeated fashion. The potent, well-balanced Leopards handed the Bees a pair of 27-point losses in district. Academy’s district winning streak ended at 44 games with a Jan. 10 loss at Lorena.
However, Academy was 12-0 against the league’s other six teams, including postseason qualifiers Cameron Yoe (19-10) and McGregor (18-14). The Bees rallied for a 60-59 win at Yoe, then edged the visiting Yoemen 73-70 in overtime.
Academy enters the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, capped by a 69-32 victory over Rockdale last Tuesday on senior night at The Hive.
The district setbacks against Lorena are Academy’s only losses to 3A opponents. The Bees’ other defeats came against 5A squads Killeen Chaparral and Abilene Wylie and 4A foes Gatesville (three meetings), Jarrell and China Spring.
The Bees’ offensive attack – built around 3-point shooting and close-range baskets – is spearheaded by a trio of guards in seniors Cole Shackelford and Scout Brazeal and junior Cooper Chase. They are complemented in the starting lineup by senior forward Cooper Shackelford and junior guard Zane Clark.
Contributing steady production as reserves are senior guard Lance Wille, junior forward Brandon Blatche and freshman guard Isaac Steeves.
Also on Academy’s playoff roster are senior Jareese White, junior Kasey Mraz (out for the season due to injury), sophomore Jackson Lamar and freshmen Davis Fossett, Elijah Lavan and Brayden Ringold.
Academy’s man-to-man defense has limited opponents to fewer than 50 points in 17 wins this season.
The Academy-Fairfield battle is a rematch of last year’s bi-district game in Hearne, a 78-54 victory for the Bees. This season, coach Kris Ballew’s Eagles shared third place in 20-3A with Groesbeck at 9-5, behind No. 13-ranked Mexia and No. 24 Franklin. Fairfield seized the league’s third playoff seed because of its season sweep against Groesbeck by a combined five points.
Fairfield’s leading players include seniors Rex Bean and Jy’ren Canady and juniors Pierre Algood and Camron Daniels.