Victoria West senior Jadyn Smith might be the most experienced player on the floor come Friday.
Smith has played in six crosstown rivalry games against Victoria East and Friday will be his seventh. The two teams will renew the rivalry at 6:30 p.m. at East.
The 6-foot-4 versatile senior remembers seeing the crowd at his first game against East in 2019. It let him know what was to come in the rivalry.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot of people,’” Smith said. “I was nervous. But going out and playing, it’s really fun, really exciting.”
The Warriors (14-9, 5-2) have won the last four meetings against the Titans. But West coach Cody McDonald knows records can be thrown out the window in the rivalry.
McDonald wants West to lean on the experience it’s gotten over the last two games, both one-score results.
Specifically, he hopes the experience of Smith and fellow senior Dion Green translates to success.
“I think Jadyn and Dion have played in a lot of these games and they understand the intensity of the moment and the atmosphere,” McDonald said. “And luckily, we’ve played two straight games in that kind of atmosphere. We have respect for them and know how hard they can play. We’re just ready to lock in for another fun battle on Friday.”
The Warriors beat Flour Bluff 41-40 on Tuesday on Jeremiah Baldwin’s late 3-pointer. Tuesday’s win followed a heartbreaking 58-55 loss to Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial.
West hopes it can build off the momentum from Tuesday when the rivalry reignites.
“Every game is just as important as the next,” Baldwin said. “We need to continue winning. Every game is equally important.”
West leads the all-time series 13-11 and that sour taste is something East (8-15, 2-5) is desperate to erase.
The Titans struggled in all phases last season in head coach Michael Ellis’ first year, but the team has adapted to his defense-first schemes.
“Most of those guys it was their first time playing varsity athletics,” Ellis said. “So now they’re playing varsity athletics for a second time so they’re not afraid of of the stage so they know what to expect in terms of the opponent.”
Despite having three players leave the team last month, East has shown improved play on the court, both offensively and defensively.
Brady Parker and Fernando Pena scored 31 and 28 points respectively in a 85-55 blowout win over Corpus Christi Carroll on Tuesday, while Eric Franklin has started consistently hitting 3-pointers.
Defensively, Nijahrell Prater and Bryson Ortega have made an impact coming off the bench.
“We have to be able to withstand their heavy pressure and then be able to play through it and calm down,” Ellis said. “I have a feeling for them, they’re gonna come out and they’re gonna try to knock us out pretty early. We have to be able to sustain that initial run and stay balanced. Do we know what we’re coached to do.”
East has not beaten West since Feb. 5, 2019.
The Titans know they’re still in the middle of the pack in District 29-5A, but a win against their crosstown rivals would make the season all worth it.
“We’ve been coming on the short end of the stick and I know personally what it’s like to be on the wrong side of those rivalry games,” Ellis said. “They’ll remember these games for the rest of their lives. What I don’t want for those guys to remember is always coming up short.”