By TONY EIERDAM
Oh, what a difference the free throw line can make.
Last month in a loss at Springtown, the Mineral Wells Rams went 11 of 23 from the free throw line, one statistic head coach Aaron Pappas pointed out that cost his team the game.
Friday night in a key District 6-3A contest at the MWHS gym, the charity stripe became the Rams’ friend.
With the game on the line and Springtown holding onto a precarious 41-40 lead with under a minute and a half to play, the Rams connected on seven consecutive free throw attempts in the last 1:26 and came away with an important 52-46 victory over the Porcupines which ties the teams for second place in district with identical 5-2 marks.
The Rams also played outstanding defense, holding Springtown to single digits in two of four quarters.
“This was a big win for us,” Pappas said. “We wanted it bad and we got it. We wanted a little revenge, and we are now tied for second.
“When we left Springtown a couple of weeks ago, we left with a bad taste in our mouths, and (Friday) we got some redemption. We played man most of the game, but then we would jump into a zone every now and again just to give them a different look.
“But man was our base defense, and the kids did a good job of contesting three-point shots and trying not to let people penetrate and get to the basket.”
The Rams also got a boost from senior forward Ty Ashley, who began the season as reserve but has played his way into a starting role. Ashley was a thorn in the Porcupines’ side defensively, and he made a big play late in the game.
With Springtown in front, 41-40, Ashley grabbed an offensive rebound, connected on the put back and was fouled. He drained the free throw to give the Rams a lead they would not give up.
“Ty is a big part of the team,” Pappas said. “He brings toughness, rebounding, and he can shoot the ball well. Ty plays great defense, and he is never out of position on defense. He did a good job for us (Friday).”
Following the three-point play, Ashley then turned playmaker and found Rams junior guard DaShawn Hicks for a baseline jumper that extended the Rams’ lead to 46-41 with a minute left to play. Hicks led all scorers with 16 points.
Springtown’s Dalton Scott was inexplicably fouled and hit one of two charity shots to cut the lead to four points, and perhaps recalling what happened the last time these two teams met, the Porcupines put the Rams on the free throw line.
With 36 seconds remaining, senior post Ricky Scott swished a pair from the line to increase the Rams’ lead to 48-42.
Springtown guard Thomas Loving scored on a driving layup with 20 seconds left to cut the lead to four, and SHS decided to put a sophomore on the line as they fouled point guard Biren Clardy with 18 seconds left to play.
Unnerved, Clardy showed extreme poise and calmly swished both charity shots to seal the win. Scott closed the scoring with a pair of free throws as MWHS took a six-point win and knotted up the second slot in 6-3A.
“Biren was clutch. Those free throws were big,” Pappas said. “For a sophomore, he has got ice in his veins, and he handled the ball well and did not make many turnovers. That’s all we can ask from him.
“Ricky also had a big game. He is our rock, and when we need a bucket he can step out and hit a three or he can go down in the paint and draw a foul.
“He also hit some key free throws down the stretch.”
Paced by seven points from Scott, including a trey, the Rams led by six points after eight minutes of play.
MWHS outscored SHS by a point in the second period to take a 22-15 lead at the half
Springtown scored 14 points in the third period to get back into the game as MWHS led buy a point as the game moved to the fourth quarter.
SHS 7 8 14 17 – 46
MWHS 13 9 8 22 – 52
MWHS – DaShawn Hicks 16, Ricky Scott 14, A.J. Williams 8, Biren Clardy 9, Ty Ashley 5.