Grapeland Advances to Regional Finals with 55-53 Win
By Will Johnson
JEWETT – Wow! What a game! If you walked into the Leon High School Gymnasium in the fourth quarter you were in for a treat as two basketball powerhouses traded blows until the bitter end. If you were there in the first quarter, however, you may have questioned how the Grapeland Sandies and Tenaha Tigers made it this deep in the playoffs.
In the end, the Sandies overcame a horrendous first half shooting performance to outlast the Tigers by a score of 55-53 and advance to the Regional Finals.
Following the Sandies Regional Quarterfinals win over Kerens Coach Cannon Earp remarked, “I’ve told our guys you’re going to have off shooting nights, you’re going to have on shooting nights and sometimes you’ll have something in between.”
After Grapeland’s heart-stopping win on Friday night, March 2, Earp chuckled as he said, “I think all my talk of defense wins games and you’re going to have off-shooting nights – I think it was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The Sandies started off the game cold as ice. They couldn’t buy a basket if the UIL was selling them for a penny on e-Bay. Every starter took their turn and every starter missed … consistently. Grapeland missed from inside the paint and they missed from outside.
The Sandies didn’t hit a shot until Josh Ackley broke the seal on the basket at the 4:09 mark of the first quarter.
The Tigers, meanwhile, opened the game on an 8-0 run. Fortunately, the Grapeland defense kept Tenaha in check and didn’t allow things to get out of hand. Rick Frauenberger and Tyrin Wiley eventually joined Ackley in the scoring column with two apiece to make the score 10-6 after the first eight minutes of play.
Tenaha’s points came from Trai Gardner and Hayden Jenkins with three each while Cody Foshee and Jay Lloyd both had two.
As the second quarter got underway, the Grapeland offense began to emerge from the deep freeze. Deco Bryant shook off his slow start and dropped eight on the Tigers as the Sandies tied the game at 10 and then took their first lead at 15-14, with 5:14 left in the half.
The Tigers regained the lead shortly afterwards and closed out the half on a 12-4 run to take a 26-19 lead into the locker room.
Frauenberger added four points in the second quarter while Ackley dropped in two to round out the Grapeland point production in the period.
Tenaha was paced by Jenkins who knocked down a pair of shots from behind the arc while Gardner and Lloyd added four each. Erik Smith also chipped in two to close out the Tiger first half scoring.
“I think this game had been talked up so much, we came out a little tight and we were not as loose as we normally are. Maybe we were a little over-conservative, knowing how athletic they are and trying not to turn the ball over,” Earp said.
“In the second half,” the coach continued, “we finally realized we are just as fast if not faster than they are. We pushed the ball and knocked down a few more shots.”
Following the break, the two teams came out of the locker rooms and looked entirely different. Grapeland played the way they were capable of playing while Tenaha showed why they were ranked in the top five in Class 2A.
The Sandies quickly cut the Tigers’ lead down to a single basket, but then the Tigers rebounded to open up a nine-point edge on Grapeland by the 4:42 mark of the third.
Seconds later, Wiley laid one in, Keizion Ashford scored on a fast break and Bryant dropped in a bunny to cut the lead back to three.
The Tigers pushed the lead back to five but the Sandies rallied to tie the score at 37 by the end of the quarter.
Bryant led the Sandies’ comeback with eight on a pair of threes to go along with his layup. Ashford and Frauenberger added four apiece while Wiley got things going with his two.
Gardner led the way for Tenaha in the third quarter as he began to heat up and knocked down seven third quarter points. He was joined in the scoring column by Foshee and Lloyd with two apiece.
With eight minutes remaining in one team’s season, the Sandies and Tigers stood in the middle of the court and slugged it out like a pair of heavyweight boxers (figuratively.)
When Frauenberger hit a pair of free throws, the Sandies had their biggest lead of the night at 45-40. Tenaha would not go away, however.
A three-pointer from Keriaun Davis and a three point play from Gardner kept the lead at five, but less than 30 seconds later the Tigers had trimmed the lead to 48-47.
Wiley hit a pair from the charity stripe to give Grapeland a three—point cushion with 3:16 remaining, while BJ Howard knocked down his first points of the game as the Sandies moved back ahead by five.
Tenaha’s Smith hit a mid-range jumper to cut the Grapeland lead back to three with less than two minutes to play. As the
clock crept under a minute, a Grapeland turnover allowed Foshee to sneak in an easy lay-up to cut the lead down to one.
Ahead by a single point, Ashford was fouled, went to the line and hit one of two. The two point lead was all the Sandies would need as they hung to win by a final score of 55-53.
For the game, the Tigers were led in scoring by Trai Gardner with 23 points. Hayden Jenkins had 11 while Jay Lloyd nine, Cody Foshee dropped in six and Erik Smith added four to close out the Tenaha scoring.
The Sandies were led by Deco Bryant with 15 points and Rick Frauenberger with 12. Tyrin Wiley netted 10, Keizion Ashford dropped in seven as both Josh Ackley along with BJ Howard added four while Keriaun Davis knocked down a fourth quarter three-pointer to round out the Grapeland scoring.
The win moves the Sandies into the Regional Finals against the Shelbyville Dragons. The game is scheduled for Saturday, March 3 at Leon High School. Tip-off is slated for 1 p.m.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.