By TONY EIERDAM
BRIDGEPORT – After coming back from 10 points down to trail by one with seven seconds left to play last night in a boys’ Class 3A, Region I bi-district playoff game here Tuesday, the Mineral Wells Rams, trailing by a point, had the ball after Hirschi Huskies’ guard Cedric Battle missed a crucial free throw.
But the basketball gods were not with the Rams as a turnover spoiled what could have been a remarkable comeback victory over a Hirschi team that came into the playoff contest as a heavy favorite and with a No. 21 ranking in 3A.
Hirschi, which should have salted the game away with a minute to play but committed an unthinkable error, hung on to defeat the Rams, 63-62, as the Huskies will advance to the area championship round.
The Rams end the season with a 15-12 overall mark.
Hirschi briefly extended its lead to 10 points late in the second quarter, but for most of the contest the margin was slight as the Rams held two leads in the first and second quarters and never trailed by more than six points in the second half.
Hirschi’s largest lead in the fourth period was five points, albeit briefly, and for the last four minutes of the contest Hirschi never held a lead larger than four points.
“Our kids were prepared and ready for the challenge,” Rams head coach Aaron Pappas said. “I think they proved that to anybody who watched the game.
“We came up short, it is disappointing, but at the same time I am proud of the kids and the effort they put forth.
“We just told the kids to hang in there and keep getting stops on the defensive end and try to take care of the basketball. We tried to make sure we got a good shot on every possession, and for the most part we did that.”
With one minute left to play, the game appeared over for the Rams. Hirschi led by four points and had possession, and what was worse for the Rams was the fact that they had committed just five fouls in the second half to that point.
Hirschi, a poor free throw shooting team at 52 percent for the season, could just dribble away from the Rams knowing they had to commit two fouls – which would have ran down significant time off the clock – to get the Huskies at the line.
But stunningly, the Huskies sent a low-percentage bounce pass in the lane and 6-6 post Da’Shan Harley could not handle the pass as it flew out of bounds, giving the Rams possession.
Rams point guard Biren Clardy found guard Nick Wendt in the corner, and the three-point specialist drained a trey with 26 seconds left to cut the Huskies’ lead to 63-62.
Hirschi, clearly rattled, threw another errant pass in the lane that was intercepted by Rams’ post Juvaree Sutton. MWHS had a chance to win the game as Rascellis Williams drove the lane in attempt to score the go-ahead bucket.
But double teamed, Williams was called for traveling and the Rams were forced to foul with seven ticks left on the clock.
Battle missed the free throw, but Clardy, who was double teamed, lost the ball in the backcourt as Hirschi ran out the clock to escape with the win.
“We wanted to get the ball in Biren’s hands, and I knew he would probably get double teamed,” Pappas said. “It is hard to go the length of the floor in seven seconds with two guys on you.
“He turned the ball over, and he felt awful about it, but I told him to keep his head up and this will be a learning experience for him.
“But if it weren’t for Biren we would have not been in the game, anyway. He did a good job of handling the ball, distributing the ball and making plays. I was very proud of Biren.
“But everyone stepped up. Juvaree (Sutton) and Roscoe (Rascellis Williams) played good defense, and Nick hit some shots and Broderick (Johnson) played tough underneath against a 6-6 kid.
“I was proud of everybody. The guys on the bench were into the game and were a positive force, and it was a total team effort.
“Again, we are disappointed and we fell short. But to play a team like that – a state-ranked team – and give them all they could handle is something to be proud of.”
The Rams trailed 17-16 in the second period before Johnson scored on a put back to give the Rams an 18-17 advantage.
Hirschi came back to take the lead on a jumper by Harley, but Johnson came back and scored on a layup as the Rams took the lead back, 20-19.
It would be the last lead the Rams would enjoy. Hirschi followed with a 9-0 run for a 28-20 cushion and held a seven-point lead at the half.
Thanks in part to 11 points by Clardy in the third period, the Rams outscored Hirschi 15-13 to cut the lead to 48-43 as the game moved to the fourth quarter.
MWHS 12 16 15 19 – 62
HHS 14 21 13 15 – 63
MWHS – Biren Clardy 18, Broderick Johnson 15, Nick Wendt 15, Rascellis Williams 7, Juvaree Sutton 4, Jordan Duckett 3.