By Will Johnson
JEWETT – After the Grapeland Sandies defeated the Shelbyville Dragons in the Regional Semifinals, they found themselves one game away from a ticket to the state tournament. Standing in their way were the Tenaha Tigers – ranked #7 in one poll and #5 in another. Tenaha had been favored all year long to be the representative from Region III at the 2016-2017 UIL Class 2A Boys Basketball Tournament held in San Antonio.
The Tigers had used a strong, trapping defense to defeat the Italy Gladiators the night before and looked ready to try the same strategy against the Sandies. Tenaha appeared to think this defensive scheme was a one size fits all but the boys from Grapeland had a different plan and used the Tenaha defense to their advantage.
After the Grapeland/Shelbyville game on Friday night, Coach Cannon Earp had referenced the game against the Dragons in boxing terms. The game against the Tigers could also be viewed as boxing match similar to a Mike Tyson fight – circa 1985 – when he knocked out 11 opponents in the first round.
The Sandies opened the game and flat-out blistered the Tigers. Grapeland scored 31 points on a variety of easy layups after breaking the Tenaha press and 3-pointers when they ran a set offense. Tink McQuirter led the Sandies with 13 points, while Riley Chipman dropped in seven and Parker Wilson had five. Tyrin Wiley added four and Kamari Smith chipped in two as the Sandies opened up a 17 point lead.
As good as the Sandies were on offense, they were just as good on defense as they held the Tigers to 14 points on eight from Trai Gardner and six from Hayden Jenkins to make the score 31-14 after the first minutes of play.
By the start of the second quarter, the Tigers seemed to have figured out they would be unable to overwhelm the Sandies with their press but it didn’t seem to matter. Grapeland put up 17 in the second period on eight points from Chipman and seven from Wilson while Smith added another two to help maintain their 17 point advantage at the break.
Gardner continued to play strong for the Tigers as he put up seven in the quarter. T.K. Gardener added six and both JaQualin Franks as well as Josh Waters had two to make the halftime score, 48-31, in favor of Grapeland.
After the break, Tenaha showed they still had some offensive firepower left and hung 33 points on the Sandies. Gardner had 12 in the quarter while Franks had 10. Jenkins hit a trio of 3-pointers and Jay Lloyd made two of two from the charity stripe.
While Tenaha put up 33, Grapeland poured in 30 to keep the lead in double digits. Chipman continued to be a thorn in the Tigers’ collective paw with nine points while McQuirter dropped in eight. Wilson added seven, Rick Frauenberger powered in four and Kamari Smith had two to make the score 78-64 with eight minutes left to decide which team went to San Antonio.
As the fourth quarter got underway, it seemed as if the Tigers had simply run out of gas.
They managed to put on a good show, but did not appear to have the energy necessary to make a run at overtaking the Sandies. Gardner continued to showcase his talent with eight points in the period. Franks connected on two 3-pointers, LaDarrius Grant had three and Lloyd added a two for Tenaha.
The Tigers resorted to a “hack-a-Sandie” strategy in the final frame, but it was to no avail. McQuirter scored nine, Wilson connected on five free throws to go along with five from Chipman and two from Smith as the Sandies won by a score 99-83 and advanced to the state tournament in San Antonio.
The Tigers were led in scoring by Trai Gardner with a game-high 34 points. JaQualin Franks netted 18 and Hayden Jenkins made five threes for 15. Jay Lloyd dropped in four LaDarrius Garrett had three and Josh Waters chipped in two to round out the Tenaha point production.
The Sandies were paced by three players with 20 plus points in the game. Tink McQuirter had a team-high 30 while Riley Chipman was right behind with 29. Parker Wilson poured in 24, Kamari Smith had eight, and both Rick Frauenberger and Tyrin Wiley had four.
“Our kids played without
anything to lose. They (Tenaha) were the higher ranked team and they were the favorites. I told someone the morning our kids don’t know th
ey have deficiencies, they just think they’re good enough to beat anybody they play,” Coach Cannon Earp said after the game.
In regard to the Tenaha press, Earp said he had remarked that he hoped they would press at the start of the game.
“We don’t have just one stud, star ball-handler who will try and go through the defense by himself. We just have a team of kids who know where to go and they know their spots. They know what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
“The first quarter, obviously, was the difference,” he continued. “We were up by 17 at the end of the quarter and we ended with a 16 point win. The first quarter was a key to breaking their press.”
The Sandies will play the Muenster Hornets in the 2016-2017 Class 2A UIL State Semifinals on Friday, March 10 at 8:30 a.m. at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.