TIOGA — When the Bulldogs opened the season by winning eight of their first nine games, it was a sign that they had blown past previous expectations.
Tioga had won just 12 games in the prior two years combined and picked up nine of those last season as the fourth-place finisher in the district standings. A quick playoff exit against perennial power Muenster was the capper to a 9-13 campaign.
After losing just one senior and bringing some new faces into the fold, the Bulldogs have found a winning formula which continued with an 82-51 victory over Collinsville in 12-2A action.
“That was the hard part, getting the kids to believe. Last year the goal was just make the playoffs and we were able to do that,” Tioga head coach Roy Mejia said. “The overall record is just way better obviously. We have expectations now. They just play well together and I hope it continues.”
Marshall Lease scored 18 of his 21 points in the first half, Landon Thompson had 13 of his 17 points in the second half, Reagan Mejia finished with 14 points and Mark Mayes chipped in 10 points for Tioga (14-4, 2-0), which travels to Tom Bean on Friday night.
It is the beginning of the part in the schedule that will show how much the Bulldogs have turned into a contender — three games on the road against the teams Tioga was unable to take down last season.
“Here comes the big stretch. This is exactly how we were last year. Start 2-0 and then lose three. Win two and then lose three to finish 4-6,” Mejia said. “It will be interesting to see how it goes this time.”
From the moment they stepped off the football field and into the gym, there was something different about the group. Mejia saw it when they opened with a win against Celeste and it has carried into district play.
“From that point on, they knew we were going to be better,” he said. “Whether you win by 30 or win by one, it doesn’t matter.”
Thomas Mendell scored 15 points, Brayden Ward added eight points and Grayson Ward and Luis Hernandez each totaled six points for Collinsville (5-11, 0-2), which hosts Lindsay, the other undefeated team in the district standings, on Friday. The Pirates have lost seven of their last eight contests.
The game was close through the first six minutes. Collinsville was hanging around thanks to Mendell, who scored five points in the opening quarter, and a free throw by Nathan Bocanegra made it an 11-8 margin.
Over the final two-plus minutes of the frame, Lease helped power a 14-4 run to give Tioga a 25-12 advantage.
“It took some time to let the guys get in the positions they needed to be,” Mejia said. “Then they were a little more comfortable. I think they adjusted pretty well.”
Lease matched the Pirates himself with 12 points in the quarter.
“Marshall, the past two games, he’s stepped up big for us,” Mejia said about his senior guard. “He’s been more of a passer in his career but he’s going to the basket more.”
The Bulldogs opened the second stanza with a 7-0 burst started on a three by Mayes which pushed Tioga’s margin to 20 points.
Collinsville tried to make a run in the middle of the quarter but the Bulldogs responded. Tristan Vaughn scored off a give-and-go with Lease, who then converted a three-point play in the final seconds of the half as the home team held a 49-25 lead at the break.
Mendell tried to get the Pirates back to a manageable deficit before Mejia hit a three-pointer to stem the tide in the middle of the third quarter. Grayson Ward’s three-pointer had Collinsville on the verge of getting the margin under 20 but the Pirates were never able to get past that point.
Tioga went into the final eight minutes with a 66-40 advantage and the lead went to 30 points on another Mejia three in the middle of the fourth. It crested at 33 before Christian Long’s layup for Collinsville in the final seconds closed out the scoring.