If the old adage “We ain’t done yet” took on a physical form, it was on full display Thursday night in the 3A State Basketball Tournament. The Waldron Bulldogs refused to hang up their sneakers on this basketball season as they hit not one, but two buzzer-beaters to knock off top-seeded Baptist Prep in the opening round of the state tournament at Clinton High School. The Dogs survived to advance to the Elite 8 in class 3A and will face the Owls of McGehee on Saturday, March 13 at 7:00. By the time the Bulldogs tip-off Saturday night, they will be one of five remaining teams still playing basketball in the state. Basketball in March is definitely not for the faint of heart!
The Bulldogs were led in scoring by senior, Gada Wagner, who finished the night with 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 buzzer-beater along with senior, Isaac “The Real” Villarreal who chipped in another 21 points, 6 charges taken, and 1 buzzer-beater as well. Coach Joshua Brown stated, “These guys are the true definition of perseverance. They never stopped fighting and they never stopped believing. So proud to be a Waldron Bulldog!”
At halftime, the Eagles of Baptist Prep found themselves holding a four-point advantage and increased that lead early in the 3rd quarter. Waldron answered with a red-hot Gada Wagner who scored nine unanswered points to swing the momentum back the Bulldogs way. Another Dog that was huge down the stretch was senior, Braden Williams, who collect 9 rebounds and scored 13 points all in the 2nd half. Trailing 50-53, Mr. Clutch, aka Gada Wagner, stepped up and hit one of his patented 25 footers at the buzzer to force the game into overtime.
However, the game was far from being decided. The Dogs and Eagles traded a few baskets before Waldron found themselves down by three with the ball once again. Wagner again had the ball in his hands, but had two defenders with him as well and found an open Villarreal who hit a contested, off-balance three-pointer to send the Dogs into a second overtime. The shot dropped as Bulldog Nation’s blood pressure spiked.
“I wasn’t ready to hang up the jerseys just yet,” explained “The Real” Villarreal on last night’s battle. “I wanted one more game and that’s what kept me going. We knew Baptist Prep could shoot lights out especially number 3 but I think we did a really good job holding him to only a couple of points. And boxing out and getting around was a MUST! If we wanted a chance to win, we had to box out. For our next game against McGehee, I think we can compete we are just going to have to play hard and leave it all on the court!”
The “we ain’t done yet” mentality was alive and well all the way to the end of the match. As Wagner hit a step-back three-pointer, senior, Bryson Bailey, drove in and finished at the rim, and Williams sealed the win with some big-time free throws. Coach Brown concluded, “Our guys and fans, our community all stepped up tonight for us! This was a ‘Waldron win’! I doubt anybody who witnessed this game will ever forget it. This team does whatever it takes to win. They have each other’s back win, lose, or draw. Thursday night’s game is one people will talk about for years to come. Such a gutsy win for our Bulldogs. This team has won the first-ever State Tournament game in school history. We are going to keep flying the W as long as we can! Go Dogs!”
Photos courtesy of Kristen Atchley, Angie Bailey, and Summer Imperiali