SMITHVILLE — Three pointers were not going to beat Waelder like they did the last time the Wildcats played Dime Box. With 20 seconds left in the game, up two points, the Wildcats defense held on and forced a contested three-point heave that fell out of bounds, giving Waelder the possession. Nine seconds later, Josh Jones-Miller found Colby Thorne down low for an easy bucket to go up 43-39, putting away the game and advancing the Wildcats to the regional tournament for the fifth year in a row.
“Last time we played [Dime Box] they made everything,” Garcia said. “We played defense, we rebounded, we kept their three-point shooting percentage under 40 percent. They shot 4-of-12, so 33 percent. We were patient on offense. I don’t even know how many threes we took, not very many. We played with heart.”
The game plan was simple for Waelder. Slow things down on offense, limit Dime Box’s possessions, then play stellar defense. In their last meeting, the Longhorns dropped 15 three-pointers on Waelder. This time, they only converted on four of them.
Dime Box led just twice in the game. Once in the second quarter up 16-15 and another time in the third quarter up 37-35. Their total time of being in the lead was 56 seconds.
“That was exactly the game plan,” Garcia reiterated. “They’re just as athletic, if not more athletic than us. They’re just as fast as us, if not faster than us. We had to slow it down and take our chances. We’re not that great of a shooting team and they are, so we just held them to as little shots as possible.”
Once Waelder found their opening, the Wildcats attacked, usually from down low to sophomore Colby Thorne, who led scoring with 20 points.
Josh Jones-Miller and Isaiah Jones-Miller added seven points each. Senior Isaiah Ewing had seven points while Alex Reyna hit a three-pointer on his lone shot coming off the bench and Carlos Reyes added two points to the stat sheet.
“We just rode [Thorne],” Garcia said. “We got on his back and all the younger guys stepped up whenever their number got called, whenever people got in foul trouble. It was just a great win overall, I’m proud of the guys.”
The win avenged a late-season blow out that could have costed Waelder a district championship.
On Feb. 9, the Wildcats lost 68-33, dropping down below Moulton for the District 30-1A title race. Waelder previously beat Dime Box in a non-district game during tournament play back in December, then again at home in a district game by two points, before losing by 35 to the Longhorns a few weeks ago. Dime Box would later beat Moulton to force a district tie, which ultimately led to the Wildcats clinching the district championship in a tiebreaker with Moulton.
Garcia cited patience on offense and stellar defense for the win over Dime Box Tuesday. Ewing saw the team’s heart as another factor.
“We needed this together,” the senior post player said, acknowledging that it would be the final time he’d beat Dime Box, “not to benefit me, but my team. They wanted it. I’m glad they came through for me and for each other. We’re a brotherhood and we got to stick together.”
The win puts Waelder back in the Region IV-1A tournament for the fifth year in a row. Some fans who took a peek at the bracket may notice a familiar name for the Region IV-1A semifinal matchup.
The Wildcats are taking on Oakwood at Burger Gym in Austin, with tipoff at 6 p.m. The last time both teams played, Oakwood won 105-95 to advance to the regional finals in the 2013-14 season. The Wildcats were then coached by David President.
Waelder 45, Leakey 43
SOMERSET — It was ugly, but in the playoffs, a win is a win, and the Waelder Wildcats did just that in Somerset last Friday against the Leakey Lions.
A back-and-forth contest, the foul-troubled Wildcats had to rely on their young talent as well as their bench to ultimately get the two-point win and advance to the playoffs.
“Both teams wanted it, both teams played hard,” Waelder Head Coach Jacob Garcia said. “It could have gone either way, to be honest. But our guys, we made plays at the end. We made enough plays and we got the win.”
The Wildcats came out swinging, running an early 10-3 run, a team effort by freshman point guard Isaiah Jones-Miller, sophomore Colby Thorne, junior Carlos Reyes and junior Josh Jones-Miller.
Isaiah Jones-Miller would score the first five points, ultimately ending the night with a team-leading 14 points.
“Little Isaiah Miller. Isiah Jones-Miller is a freshman, he’s a little beast,” Garcia said. “He took [the team] on his back tonight, I don’t know what he had, probably 15, maybe 20 points. We rode him tonight.”
Right behind was Thorne with 13 points.
The key play came late in the fourth, when fouls started to creep up and Reyes fouled out with 3:01 left. Junior Alex Reyna filled in and later committed a key turnover in a close game. However, with less than two seconds left on the clock, Waelder up 45-43, a Leakey long pass would be stolen by Reyna, ending the game with the two0point win.
“We just kept fighting, never gave up,” Jones-Miller, the freshman point guard, said. “We just had to keep our head up, never gave up.”
“I always try to them, if you go in, just give good minutes,” Garcia said of his bench play. “It doesn’t matter if you play one minute, it doesn’t matter if you play the whole game. Just give good minutes. Every time somebody comes in, they gave us good minutes. Whether it’s Alex [Reyna], whether it’s Jacovan [Fields], whether it’s [Alexander] Mendoza, no matter who comes in, they usually do good things. I’m proud of the guys and the way they played.”
Waelder would advance to the Region IV-1A quarterfinal game to play against Dime Box, beating their district rivals 43-39 to advance to the semifinals where they will meet Oakwood. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at Burger Gym in Austin.