By Kyle Gregory
Only a year removed from District 25-4A and their first district title in decades, Lake Travis boy basketball hit another milestone Tuesday night, capturing the District 15-5A title in their first year in the league.
“This win means a lot,” coach Clint Baty said. “We were 30 years without a championship last year and it means a lot to these kids that they were able to not only get the first outright championship for Lake Travis in 30 years, but they were also the first ones to get a championship in 5A. Anytime you can call yourself a champion, no matter what it is, it means a lot.”
In a must-win game, the Cavaliers (23-9, 9-3) clinched the title with a wild 58-56 victory over Del Valle (3-9).
The last time the two teams met, Lake Travis held a five-point lead in the final minute, only to lose to the Cardinals in overtime. Tuesday’s contest took on a similar trajectory.
“Not again, it’s not happening again. We knew that,” senior Henry Castner said. “Last time things didn’t go our way and the ball didn’t bounce our way. We knew that things were going to have to change – whether it was people taking charges, like Sean Steffen and Stefan Vidovic, or people hitting big shots. I think we all knew what our role was a little bit more this game and we tried to execute that.”
Lake Travis struggled to make shots in the first quarter and the Cardinals jumped to a 7-2 lead by deftly scooping up rebounds. The Cavs took some pressure off with a layup by Jordan Manse that led to Castner deflecting the inbound pass, which was then returned to Castner for a layup, making the game 7-6 Del Valle. The two squads traded points for the remainder of the quarter, with Del Valle coming out ahead 17-16.
“Tonight, of our last three games, this was probably our worst performance on the offensive and defensive boards,” Baty said. “We just got beat up on the boards.”
The second quarter was another back and forth affair. Del Valle transitioned into a press, which benefited the Cavaliers, as they were able to score several fast break points. In the final few minutes, the game, which had previously been almost genteel, grew a little rougher, with plenty of jostling under the basket. The Cavaliers went into halftime holding onto a 27-26 lead.
The Cavaliers opened the third quarter with a bang, as a Manse steal led to a dunk by Vidovic. The dunk proved to have little symbolic meaning, as an unfazed Del Valle squad continued to grind against the Cavs. The third quarter ended with the Cavs up 43-41.
In contrast with the preceding quarter, the fourth quarter started slow and ended in dramatic fashion. Lake Travis snatched the Del Valle inbounds pass and proceeded to control the ball for almost a full minute before taking its first shot.
“They were in a trap and we wanted to make sure we got our kids in position,” Baty said. “We were up, we weren’t going to go force the issue. Our kids are pretty smart about that.”
The placid flow of the game was short-lived. Following the round of keep away and a Lake Travis bucket, the next five baskets were three point shots, traded between Del Valle and Vidovic.
Lake Travis couldn’t pull away. With 30 seconds left in the game, the Cavaliers led the Cardinals 56-53, but Del Valle had possession. Manse managed to draw an offensive foul and went to the line to shoot his one and one free throw. He made the first, turning it into a two-score game, but missed the second. Another foul with 12.6 seconds left sent Vidovic to the line, but he, too, made only one of his free throws.
Up 58-53 with barely any time remaining, it appeared as if the Cavaliers had the win sewn up, but Del Valle made it difficult. With 2.7 seconds left, the Cardinals Dantinique McElveen drained a 3 that put his team within striking distance, 58-56. The next 2.6 seconds saw four inbound passes. The first was deflected out of bounds by a Del Valle player. On the second, a foul on Lake Travis gave possession to the Cardinals. The third was knocked out of bounds by a Lake Travis player, and the final pass, with one second remaining, led to a desperation 3 that was well short of the basket.
“Everybody was really anxious the whole time’” Vidovic said. “We’d go down, we’d go up by four, we’d start to feel a littlerelaxed and then they’d hit a 3 and it was like, ‘Man, now we’ve got to play defense again and score again.’ I feel like once those final seconds came down everyone finally realized what was finally in our lap.”
It was seniors who led the Cavaliers in scoring, as Vidovic had 18, Manse had 14 and Castner had 10 – a fitting end to their final regular season game in a Lake Travis uniform.
“It feels weird. It went by so fast,” Vidovic said. “I can still remember freshman year when Henry was new and Jordan was new and we were all becoming friends. It just flew by.”
Going into the game the Cavaliers were tied with Anderson at 8-3 in district. The Cavaliers had beaten Anderson twice, but up until last Friday, they were still chasing the Trojans for first place. Luckily for the Cavs, Anderson lost to Austin last week, which meant that the Cavaliers could clinch the district title with Tuesday’s win over Del Valle.
“Knowing that we had an opportunity for the district championship meant a lot,” Castner said. “We tried to stay focused in practice this week, and things turned out the way we wanted them to.”
With the regular season over, the Cavaliers are looking ahead to playoffs.
“We go up north now to Dallas and the Waco area,” Vidovic said. “That’s a whole new step as opposed to the San Antonio route we did last year.”
“Things are going the right way,” Castner said. “the team’s coming together at the right time and we’re peaking at the right moment. We’re looking forward to playoffs and seeing how far of a run we can make.”
Lake Travis will play District 16-5A fourth seed McNeil in the bidistrict round either Monday or Tuesday.
Final District 15-5A Standings
Lake Travis 9-3
Del Valle 3-9