By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – After a heartbreaking, one point loss to the Madisonville Mustangs on day two of pool play in the Houston County Holiday Tournament, the Grapeland Sandies found themselves playing for third place against the Class 4A China Spring Cougars.

While the Sandies fought hard throughout the game, the Cougars size proved
to be too much of an obstacle for the smaller Grapeland team as they fell by a final score of 56-49 and slipped to fourth place.

The Sandies started off slow in the first quarter and only mustered 13 points. Tink McQuirter had seven in the first eight minutes of play while Riley Chipman, Rodney Davis and Rick Frauenberger all had two points.

China Spring, meanwhile, dropped 17 on the Sandies to take a 17-13 lead into the second quarter. Tyrick James scored six for the Cougars, Antwan Stephens added five and a trio of Cougars – Cutter Haigood, Landan Hensley and Cameron Jenkins – all had two.

The Sandies found their defensive rhythm in the second quarter and held the Cougars to seven points while they scored 14 to take a 27-24 lead into the break. Chipman hit two from behind the arc for six points, Parker Wilson drained a three of his own, Frauenberger and McQuirter netted two and Josh “Bear” Ackley made one of two from the line.

Stephens added four more to his total for China Spring in the second. He was joined in the scoring column by Brady Collard with two and James with one.

After halftime, both teams showed the fatigue of having played four games and half of a fifth in less than 48 hours. The Sandies only managed to score seven points in the quarter while the Cougars only managed to score 12, but that was enough to re-gain the lead.

Collard and Brett Cain netted four apiece for China Spring while Stephens and Tony Stewart both added two which made the score 36-34, after three periods of play.

The Sandies scored all seven of their points from the free throw line. McQuirter was five of six from the charity stripe while Kamari Smith was two-for-two.

As the fourth quarter began, the Cougars began to connect from behind the three point line. Stephens hit two threes as part of his eight points in the quarter. Hensley added a three as well as a pair of two pointers for seven points in the fourth. Cameron Jenkins also connected on a three and James closed out the scoring with a two pointer to give China Spring the 56-49 win.

Grapeland got five points from Wilson in the fourth to along with four from McQuirter, three from Smith and two from Davis. Chipman closed out he Grapeland scoring by converting one of two from the line.

For the game, the Sandies were led by Tink McQuirter with 18 points and Riley Chipman with nine. Parker Wilson went for eight, Kamari Smith had five, Rodney Davis and Rick Frauenberger both added four while Josh Ackley scored one.

The Cougars were led by Antwan Stephens with a game high 19. He was joined by three other China Spring players – Landan Hensley, Tyrick James and Cameron Jenkins – with nine points each. Brett Cain dropped in four as Brady Collard, Cutter Haigood and Tony Stewart all had two points to round out the scoring for the Cougars.

Following the game, Coach Cannon Earp remarked on his team’s performance. “We aren’t dealing with some things very well and it has nothing to do with X’s and O’s. We need to deal with some adversity and we haven’t faced much of it,” he said.

“Coming into this tournament,” the coach explained, “we were 16-1.  Even though we went 3-2, it was still a positive weekend because we did face some adversity, which should help us down the road.”

Asked specifically what the team could take from this, Earp said it would help the team learn how to deal with situations which didn’t go their way.

“We have to get better offensively. We have to get better when we face good teams like that,” he said, referring to China Spring.

“We did well in the first half when we were facing a zone defense. When they went to a man-to-man defense, they were big and physical and strong. We have to get better in the half- court game. When you beat teams by 30 or 40 points, it’s hard to notice,” Earp said.

“We don’t have that one dominant kid who can take over a game. We’re going to mix some things up and do things a little bit different. We have three games left before district against some good opponents, but we’ll work it out,” he said.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.