For two straight seasons, Grapeland came to the regional basketball tournament and was eliminated in the semifinals. But on their third attempt, the Sandies put themselves in position to contend for a state berth.
Thanks to a big second quarter, No. 3 Grapeland pulled away for a 75-60 victory against sixth-ranked Dallardsville Big Sandy in the Class 1A Division I Region III boys semifinals Friday morning at Wagstaff Gymnasium.
Before a raucous audience estimated at 2,200 on the Tyler Junior College campus, Grapeland (33-4) advanced to meet No. 8 San Augustine (22-6) in the regional final at 10 a.m. today. The winner moves on to the UIL state basketball tournament, scheduled for next Thursday through Saturday at The University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
"We're excited to get to move on," Grapeland coach Owen Clifton said. "We set our goal that we wanted to make the state tournament, and we're one win away. That's pretty awesome."
Grapeland's Jacolby Simpson, a 6-3 junior guard, finished with 25 points and seven rebounds to lead the way. Senior guard Quaderius Whitt contributed 16 points and junior guard Patrick Walker added 12 points.
Jalen Abbey scored 24 points to lead Big Sandy, a sharp-shooting team which finished the season with a 28-8 record.
No doubt superior athletically, Grapeland outscored Big Sandy 20-5 in the second quarter to take a 38-19 lead into the break before a very pleased cheering section. That helped the Sandies build enough space to fend off a comeback attempt by the Wildcats, who went on an 11-4 run in the third quarter to pull within 12 points with less than two minutes remaining.
The run came with Walker in foul trouble, but his teammates stepped up in his place and showed their collective resiliency. Among the second-half standouts was junior William Whitehead, who threw down a one-handed dunk with 3:23 left in the third quarter to help respond to Big Sandy's run.
"We knew they were going to make the run," Clifton said. "A team like that isn't going to give up. They didn't get this far for that. We knew they were going to make a run. And then when Pat went out with four fouls, I was really proud of our other boys stepping up and playing smart and playing well together."
The Sandies grabbed their first 20-point lead of the morning when Simpson scored on a breakaway layup with 1:39 left in the second quarter, during which Grapeland outscored Big Sandy 20-5 to begin pulling away.
San Augustine 81, Kerens 60
San Augustine built a 21-point lead in the first half, watched it vanish all the way and then rebuilt another big lead to win by 21 points in this up-and-down the floor contest.
The Wolves put their streakiness on full display in front of another packed audience, scoring 26 points in the first quarter and 30 in the fourth to win in commanding fashion. But they actually trailed at one point in the third after leading 39-18 with 4:23 left in the second before the Bobcats went on 12-2 run to make it a 41-30 game at the break.
Dezmond Randle scored 23 points and Bobby Tanner added 19 to lead San Augustine, which had eight 3-pointers for the game. JaCourtney Thomas added 15 points.
Nate Betts finished with 20 points to lead Kerens.
No. 3 Grapeland 75, No. 6 Dallardsville Big Sandy 60
Big Sandy 11 5 25 16 -- 60
Grapeland 18 20 20 17 -- 75
BIG SANDY -- Benson Williams, 5; Jalen Abbey, 24; Blaine Tolar, 2; Naaman Williams, 10; Angel Bullock, 13; Tyler Griffin, 6.
GRAPELAND -- Jacolby Simpson, 25; Jaques Faulk, 8; Javonte Woods, 1; Trevelon Hart, 2; William Whitehead, 6; John McKnight, 2; Patrick Walker, 12; Quaderius Whitt, 16; Jermorris Davis, 3.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- BS: Bullock (3), Abbey (3), Williams. G: Faulk (2), Simpson, Whitt (2), Davis.
NEXT UP -- Grapeland vs. San Augustine, 10 a.m. today.
No. 8 San Augustine 81, No. 9 Kerens 60
San Augustine 26 15 9 31 -- 81
Kerens 14 15 16 14 -- 60
SAN AUGUSTINE -- Jeremy Jenkins, 10; Jarvis Smith, 11; JaCourtney Thomas, 15; Bobby Tanner, 19; Dezmond Randle, 23; Jamikel Roberts, 1; Al Horton, 2.
KERENS -- Tobyus Thomas, 10; Kevin Townsel, 9; Demetris Sayles, 2; Shelton Sayles, 2; Nate Betts, 20; Daedrion Tolliver, 12; Dustin Jock, 3; Talon Modester, 2.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- SA: Randle (5), Thomas (2), Horton. K: Betts (2), Thomas, Jock.
RECORDS -- San Augustine 22-6; Kerens 23-9.
NEXT UP -- San Augustine vs. Grapeland, 10 a.m. today.