ABILENE -- "Survive and advance" is the name of the game come tournament time. And with their backs against the wall, the Graford Jackrabbits (27-3) did just that, holding off the Ira Bulldogs, 69-65, in double-overtime in the Class 1A-Division II Regional Semifinals, Friday night, at Abilene Christian University's Moody Coliseum.
With the win, Graford advances by the skin of their teeth to the regional finals and a matchup with last year's Region 2 representative at the 1A-II State Tournament -- the Water Valley Wildcats (26-5). The 'Rabbits and 'Cats will square off in the Moody Coliseum at 2 p.m., Saturday.
As for the Ira game, Graford head coach Ty Tabor said -- although his team was happy after the win -- the Jackrabbits did not play as well as they should have Friday night. Ira excelled in transition and forced a whopping 22 Graford turnovers -- far above the 'Rabbits average of around 10.
"(Ira) did a good job of guarding our quickness and running," Tabor said. "We were able to rely on our size for most of them game to wear them out, but we never could get much separation.
"It was like a heavyweight boxing match. But we survived."
Graford jumped out to an early lead, finishing the first quarter ahead 15-13, but the Bulldogs went into the loker room at halftime with the score tied at 29 apiece. It would be the first of three ties at the end of a period throughout the game.
Many of Graford's best players struggled with fouls, as juniors Lucas Simmons, Petr Vopinka and Luis Conde Fernandez all were in foul trouble and had to sit out much of the game.
Even so, Simmons and Fernandez managed to be the team's top scorers, with Simmons posting 14 and Fernandez scoring a team-high 21 points, including the last-second shot that sent the game into overtime. At the end of the first overtime period, Ira would hit another buzzer-beater from three-point range to send the game into its final frame.