By Will Johnson
EAST TEXAS – As the fall faded into winter, the sounds coming from the gridiron, volleyball courts and cross country tracks were replaced by the sounds of squeaking sneakers and basketballs being pounded on the hardwood.
It was time for crossover dribbles, blocked shots, 3-pointers, free throws and a few dunks thrown in for good measure. For two teams, it was also a season that ended one game shy of playing for a state title.
The high schools in Anderson County had an off year in the world of hoops. The Palestine Lady Cats qualified for the postseason but lost in the first round. The same was true of the Westwood Panthers, the Cayuga Lady Wildcats and Neches Tigers.
There was one notable exception and that was found in Slocum as both the Lady Mustangs and Mustangs made deep playoff runs.
On the boys’ side of the court, the Mustangs finished second in District 27-A to the Laneville Yellow Jackets. When the postseason began, however, the Mustangs turned up the tempo. They hammered the Chester Yellow Jackets in the Bi-District round of the playoffs by 27.
In the Area Round, the Mustangs beat the Coolidge Yellow Jackets by nine and then walloped the Wells Pirates by 25 in the Regional Quarterfinals.
Their next game was in the Regional Semifinals where the Mustangs faced the Dime Box Longhorns. Unfortunately for Slocum, that was where their playoff run came to an end. While the Mustangs kept it close, they eventually fell to the Longhorns by a final score of 55-47.
Meanwhile, their counterparts on the Lady Mustangs had a magical season of their own. They went undefeated during district play and earned a bye in the BI-District round of the playoffs.
They faced the Abbott Lady Panthers in the Area round and thumped the Lady Panthers by 33 points. In the Regional Quarterfinals, the lady Mustangs took on the Apple Springs Lady Eagles and defeated them by a score of 46-24.
The win moved Slocum into the Regional Semifinals against the Nueces Canyon Lady Panthers. The game was close throughout but the Lady Mustangs escaped with a four point victory to advance to the Regional Finals against the Moulton Lady Bobkatz.
After their win over Nueces Canyon, the Moulton game was less of a test as the Lady Mustangs won by a score of 65-44 to gallop into the state tournament in San Antonio.
Unfortunately, the Lady Mustangs season came to an end in the Alamo City as they lost in the State Semifinals to the eventual state champion – the Nazareth Swiftettes – by a score of 63-31.
Meanwhile in Houston County, four of the five high schools made postseason appearances. The only school which did not was the Latexo
Tigers and Lady Tigers.
While the Tigers and Lady Tigers struggled, they were much improved from previous years and may well be a force to be reckoned with in the not too distant future.
The Crockett Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs both made the playoffs and while the Bulldogs bowed out in the area round, the Lady Bulldogs made it to the Regional Semifinals before they fell to the Teague Lady Lions by a score of 65-41.
Both the Lovelady Lions and Lovelady Lady Lions qualified for the postseason UIL tournament but unfortunately, both teams lost in the first round.
In Kennard, the Lady Tigers made the playoffs but after a first round win against the Avalon Lady Eagles the Lady Tigers fell in the Area round to the Coolidge Lady Yellow Jackets.
The Queen City of the Sand Flats continued to be a hotspot for basketball during the 2016-2017 season as both the Sandies and Sandiettes made deep playoff runs.
The Sandiettes made a resurgence on the basketball stage as they relied on a group of underclassmen to capture the district title for the first time in several years.
Grapeland opened the season with a stunning win over the Buffalo Lady Bison, the eventual Class AAA State Runners-up.
Building on that first win, the Sandiettes honed their skills in the non-conference games and then went 9-1 in district to win the district crown.
They opened the postseason with a 67-40 win over the Cayuga Lady Wildcats and followed that up with a heart stopping 45-43 win over the Rosebud-Lott Lady Cougars in the Area round.
As they moved into the Regional Quarterfinals for the first time in a long while, their opponent was the LaPoynor Lady Flyers. LaPoynor had been ranked at or near the top of the polls all year and had defeated the Sandiettes by 21 earlier in the year.
The Sandiettes played their hearts out but in the end LaPoyner’s size and speed proved to be to much as Grapeland fell by a final score of 49-39.
On the boys’ side of the court, the Sandies started off the season strong and then hit a rough spot after the New Year. With the district opener scheduled against the rival Lovelady Lions, the Sandies appeared ripe for the picking.
The Sandies, however, showed they were not ready to relinquish their district title run of seven years quite yet. A 27 point win over the Lions sent Grapeland on its way to an undefeated district season and into the playoffs.
In the Bi-District round, they faced the Cross Roads Bobcats and hammered them by 51 points. The Area round saw the Sandies take on the Rosebud-Lott Cougars and hand them a 33 point beat down.
As the regional games began, the competition got a little tougher. In the Quarterfinals, Grapeland took on the LaPoynor Flyers in a game many expected the Sandies to lose.
They were wrong. The Sandies took care of business and defeated the Flyers 62-54 to move into the Regional Semifinals against the Shelbyville Dragons.
As the Regional Tournament got underway, the Sandies lost a player for personal reasons and had another starter sit out a quarter for disciplinary reasons. Grapeland never missed a beat – the Sandies defeated the Dragons by a final score of 86-68 in the semifinals.
Grapeland met up with the Tenaha Tigers in the Regional Finals and opened the game on a scoring spree the Tigers could not recover from as the Sandies blew away Tenaha by a final score of 99-83 to advance to the state tournament in San Antonio.
The Alamodome was the end of the road for the Sandies as they came within seconds of adva
ncing to the finals. In the waning seconds of the State Semifinal game against the Muenster Hornets, a missed charging call went against the Sandies and a game-winning shot hit every part of rim but the bottom. The game went into OT, but the Sandies couldn’t pull it out and fell by a final of 56-52.
Muenster went on to defeat the Clarendon Broncos by a final of 73-45 to win the state title.
Whew! That gets us into spring and while the state titles were elusive during the fall and winter months they began to flow like water from a well in the second half of the school year. Those titles and much more will be covered in part three of the 2016-2017 sports recap.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.