Despite some bad defense and early foul trouble, the #16 Waelder Wildcats were too much to handle at the end of the game, outscoring Prairie Lea 21-4 in the fourth quarter to open District 30-1A with a 76-45 victory over the Indians last Friday.
“I just kept telling guys ‘we got to finish and get out of here,’” Waelder head coach David Graves said after the win. “We played poorly on defense from the start to the finish.”
Prairie Lea’s Damien Chapa found openings in Waelder’s defense, scoring 11 of his team’s 16 points in the first quarter and 18 of their 25 points in the first half.
“We knew he could get buckets, that’s what he does,” Graves said of Chapa. “We didn’t guard him well at all, we got to go back and fix some things.”
“Defensively, that’s the worst we’ve played,” he added.
On the offensive end, the Wildcats forced passes, according to Graves. Once the team settled in, Waelder was more efficient on that end of the court.
“I think once our nerves were calmed in the second half and we understood that hey, we’re taking rushed shots, we’re taking rushed passes that we got to go back to doing what we need to do, I think that helped us a lot,” Graves said. “It’s the first district game, our guys are amped up. They’ve been amped up for district since we started, and I just think that we did a poor job the first half, a decent job the third [quarter] and we closed out in the fourth quarter a lot better.”
Up 36-25 at the half, both Waelder and Prairie Lea matched scoring before Colby Thorne ended the third quarter with a buzzer-beating three to put the Wildcats up 55-41. The Wildcats gave up three points, all off free throws, before ending the game on a 21-1 run, closing out their district opener with the 31-point win.
“I think it’s very important for us,” Graves said of the win. “It sets the tone for how we want to end the break. We had a great tournament in Flatonia. We played great defensively, and we wanted to carry that over to this game. I think for us, the seniors and the underclassmen, and as a team, as a family, that that meant a lot for us, to go 1-0 into the break [and] be well rested.”
“Our season starts when district starts, our season is not our preseason,” Graves continued. “That does not get you to the regional tournament or to San Antonio, where we will be. We’re very excited for [the win]. They earned it. It was a hard battle, Prairie Lea just kept coming and never went away, I tip my hat to them.”
Waelder is on holiday break with their next game on the road against McMullen County for a non-district game on Friday, Jan. 3. The Wildcats return home on Tuesday, Jan. 7 to take on Round Top-Carmine to continue district play.