The Big Sandy Wildcats used a strong fourth quarter to shake off a pesky Riesel Indian squad 73-58 Friday at Bryan Rudder High School.
The team without a senior found a way to win, despite not playing at their best.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. Riesel did a good job tonight and give them credit, they gave us a lot of problems. We really didn’t play well until the fourth quarter and our foul trouble had something to do with that.”
The opponent just southeast of Waco was a four seed coming out of District 18-2A, but defeated a district champion in the bi-district round in Crawford.
Big Sandy wasted no time building a 7-0 lead and appeared too quick for a Riesel team that settled for tough shots. However with just two minutes off the clock, Aaron Thompson picked up his second foul on a questionable reaching call. At 9-3, Indian coach Blake Doughty asked for time.
A three by Brooks Embry and layup from Mike Ruiz had the Indians within one. A Jase Little jumper from a foot away had Riesel in front. It wouldn’t last long, as Cole Foster got a long three to fall.
Britton Dickens had two baskets underneath the rim to extend the lead to six. Riesel had one more run of five points to bring the score to 16-15 after one.
Samuel Richard scored the first two buckets of the second, but the Indians kept working. With 3:20 left in the second, they took another one-point lead at 24-23. The lead would build to six at 31-25 as Big Sandy continued its carelessness with the ball.
But just like Riesel in the first quarter, the Wildcats had a five-point run, bringing the score to a one-point difference at 31-30.
Aaron Thompson’s absence in the first quarter seemed to impact a Wildcat team that was not as sharp in transition as it was Tuesday versus Kerens. His second-quarter performance wasn’t quite on par with recent showings.
That was quickly rectified in the third, as the Wildcats were behind for 11 seconds into the period. Aaron had five points just two minutes into the quarter, as opposed to just one in the first half. But it was his ball handling and igniting fast breaks where he was most valuable.
“He gets us set in our offense so well,” Foster said. “A good point guard is like the quarterback of your team — he gets everybody where they need to be. He has been in foul trouble before, but we were a little shaky when it happened tonight.”
The Wildcats’ 9-0 run to begin the half was a needed boost, energizing the team in purple. The two traded buckets, the rest of the stanza, but the Indians collected seven fouls, meaning the Wildcats could spend much of the fourth at the charity stripe.
After three, Big Sandy had the lead at 48-40.
A passing clinic was put on by Aaron Thompson in the fourth, while Dickens controlled the boards.
“The last two games he has been outstanding rebounding the ball for us and doing a good job in the middle of that 2-3 (zone). We’ve had to get out on the shooters and they are attacking the gap on the zone,” Foster said. “We have been funneling them to him and he has done a great job of holding his ground, getting his hand up, and affecting a lot of those shots.”
The ‘Cats were running and opened an 18-point advantage midway through the quarter at 63-45. Riesel closed the gap to 65-53 and Richard fouled out on a technical with just under three minutes to play.
The free throw line played a part down the stretch for both teams with each in the double bonus. The ‘Cats went 9-13 from the line in the fourth quarter alone.
“We had been playing so well since district started, but I also think Riesel did a good job,” the Big Sandy coach said. “We didn’t respond very well and we let them take us out of our offense. We really lacked execution, but it is a learning process. But I learned a long time ago that an ugly win is better than a loss.”
Mikey Ruiz led the Indians with 16 points, Brooks Embry had 14, and Little had 11. For the Wildcats, Richard led all with 18, Dickens and Jackson Mayer had 13, and Aaron Thompson had 11.
The Big Sandy playoff journey will next be in the Regional Quarterfinals Tuesday versus Italy, runners up from District 19-2A.
The Gladiators have defeated Mart 70-39 and Lovelady 65-60 in the postseason.
Click polkenterprise.com for information on playoff times and sites.