By Will Johnson
JEWETT – The Grapeland Sandies took on their toughest opponent so far in the 2017 postseason on Tuesday, Feb. 28 as they tangled with the LaPoynor Flyers for a chance to advance to the Regional Tournament.
The Sandies had defeated the Cross Roads Bobcats by a score of 80-29 and then turned around and hammered the Rosebud-Lott Cougars 68-35.
The Flyers had defeated the Centerville Tigers 75-42 in the Bi-District round and sent the Dawson Bulldogs back home with their collective tail between their legs after they unleashed a 68-37 beat down on the Bulldogs.
In the final Texas Association of Basketball Coaches regular season poll, LaPoynor was ranked #12 while Grapeland held down the #18 spot. Someone was leaving the Leon High School gym disappointed on Tuesday evening and after four quarters of intense play, the disappointment belonged to the Flyers as the Sandies grounded them by a final score of 62-54.
As the game began, the Sandies opened up their offense with a 3-pointer from Rodney Davis. Kamari Smith knocked down a pair of free throws from the charity stripe and when Smith dropped in a 3-pointer, it gave Grapeland a five point lead at the end of the first quarter, 14-9.
Davis added a two to his three pointer and Riley Chipman netted four to close out t
he Sandies’ scoring in the first eight minutes of action.
The Flyers nine points came on three from a trio LaPoynor players – KeAndre Eldridge, Isaac Jackson and Xavier Oliver.
While the Sandies led as the second quarter began, two of the starters – Rodney Davis and Tink McQuirter – were in foul trouble with two each and spent the majority of the period on the bench. McQuirter managed to net three points before picking up his third foul with 1:18 left in the first half.
Davis and Rick Frauenberger both scored two as Parker Wilson converted one of two from the free throw line to give the Sandies a 22-18 lead as the teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.
The Flyers stayed consistent in the second as they posted another nine to shave a point off the Grapeland lead. Eldridge nailed a 3-pointer while Jackson, Lane McClelland and Luke all dropped in two.
After halftime, the Flyers began to make a move on the Sandies. Davis picked up his third foul at the 7:02 mark and with 6:48 remaining in the third, the Flyers tied things up at 24. Shortly afterwards, LaPoynor took its first lead of the game by a score of 26-24.
Smith made one of two from the line to cut the lead to one and when McQuirter came back into the game, he drilled a shot from the wing to make the score 27-26. Back-to-back baskets from Oliver gave the Flyers a three point lead but Grapeland’s Tyrin Wiley came through for the Sandies when they need him most. Wiley made a driving lay-up at the 2:52 mark, was fouled on the play and made the free throw to tie the game at 30.
After Wilson made two from the line, Wiley came through again for the Sandies with a 3-po
inter to end the quarter with Grapeland ahead 35-30.
The Flyers were led in the third period by Oliver with eight points and Jackson with four. Wiley had six for Grapeland, McQuirter dropped in four, Wilson had two and Smith chipped in one during the third.
With eight minutes left to play, the Flyers tried in vain to mount a comeback. After a LaPoynor basket, Wilson hit a 3-pointer for Grapeland at the 7:15 mark of the fourth quarter to make the score 38-32. A two from McQuirter was followed by a three-point play from Oliver and suddenly the Flyers only trailed by three.
McQuirter dropped in back-to-back baskets to push the Grapeland lead out to seven. The Sandies moved out to a nine point advantage with just over 90 seconds remaining, however, the Flyers would not go away.
After McQuirter made a pair of free throws to make the score 57-48, McClelland made a pair to cut the lead back to seven. A turnover by Grapeland on their next possession gave Eldridge a good look at a three and he nailed it to make the score 57-43 with 41 seconds left to play.
That was as close as it would get, however, as the Flyers went into their hack-a-Sandie defense and sent Grapeland to the line. The Sandies went to the charity stripe 20 times during the fourth quarter and made 14 to hang on and win by a score of 62-54 to move onto the Regional Semifinals.
The Flyers were led in scoring by Xavier Oliver with 14 points and KeAndre Eldridge with 13. Isaac Jackson went for nine, Lane McClelland had seven and Jarred Sanchez had six fourth quarter points. Brett Grahn made three of four from the line and Luke Mills chipped in a basket to round out the LaPoynor point production.
The Sandies were led by Tink McQuirter who scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the final frame. Parker Wilson dropped in 13 including a 3-pointer and seven of eight shooting from the free throw line in the fourth.
Rodney Davis had nine while a trio of Sandies – Riley Chipman, Kamari Smith and Tyrin Wiley – all had six apiece as Rick Frauenberger added two to round out the Grapeland scoring.
“It was ugly, but it was a win,” Grapeland Coach Cannon Earp said, after the game. “”We knew they would be a tough matchup for us. We like to get out and run and they wanted to slow the tempo down. We’re good when we can play in transition and they didn’t really allow us to do that. We were finally able to do that some in the fourth quarter using our half-court trap. We hit some free throws at the end and I was proud of that.”
He added, “We almost had a devastating sequence of events near the end. The ball went off of Tink’s hands and they made a three. It got a little hairy at that point, But Parker, Tink and Rodney hit some big free throws for us and now we’re going to the Regional Tournament!”
Asked about the early foul trouble, Earp said it altered his game plan somewhat but stressed the team still got some pretty good looks at the basket.
“We just couldn’t make anything. I believe we made our first three to start the game and Kamari hit another one in the middle somewhere, but it was tough sledding going into the half. Luckily, LaPoynor was in the same boat. We got a couple of their bigs in foul trouble and they didn’t shoot the ball well, either,” he said.
Asked about the play of play of Kamari Smith and Tyrin Wiley in the third quarter, the coach sang their praises.
“We haven’t statted the game yet, but Kamari must have had 20 defensive rebounds. Tyrin had a couple of steals, a lay-up and a free throw along with that huge three that put us up by five,” he said.
The Grapeland Sandies will play the Shelbyville Dragons on Friday, March 3 at 5 p.m. at the Leon High School gym in Jewett in the Class 2A Region III Regional Semifinals. As of press, time, however, the score was unavailable.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.