He’s been hitting clutch shots for Eula all season long, so when a trip to the state tournament was on the line against Kerens, there was little doubt who would be taking the big shot for the Pirates.
Kainon Irons took that shot at Moody Coliseum on Saturday, giving Eula a 52-51 lead on a jumper with 21 seconds to play. He followed that with a free throw 11 seconds later to help lift the Pirates to a come-from-behind 53-51 regional final win.
Despite missing several minutes due to foul trouble, Irons finished with a game-high 21 points, pushing Eula to the Class-1A Division I state tournament in Austin, where it will meet an opponent to be determined.
Kerens, which led 28-17 at the break, got 17 points from Trey Lindsey and 10 points from Paul Fuqua.
The Bobcats (24-4) had two opportunities to force a late tie, but came up empty on two missed free throws by Anthony McQuary with 0:14 left and with a missed leaner by Lindsey as time expired.
"We just kept going strong today," said Irons, who had 10 of his points in the fourth quarter. "We lost a little (confidence) but we just kept working our way back into it."
The Pirates had every reason to question themselves early, after getting outrun, outjumped and outhustled for the better part of the first half.
Sensing that his team had more in the tank than it was showing, Eula coach Josh Fostel took a common sense approach to getting them back in the game.
"We didn’t play as well as we could in the first half, and I told the kids that you don’t want to get to this stage and not play as well as you’re capable of," Fostel said. "If we came back out and played as well as we could and they still beat us, then we could live with that.
"But it would be tough to sleep at night if we didn’t come out and play our best."
The Pirates responded with an 8-2 run to open the third quarter, after which Kerens never led by more than five again.
Eula (35-2) forced a 38-38 tie with a 21-10 run through the third, capped by a steal and a tying layup by Jacob Archa with 12 seconds left in the period.
"The game completely changed at the beginning of the third quarter," Kerens coach Don Enis said. "We had four straight fouls and they got right back into the game."
Nonetheless, Kerens reclaimed a slight lead early in the fourth quarter, and maintained it until Irons’ jumpshot with 21 seconds to play.
Ironically, Eula led only twice — by two points in the first minute of the game, and by two points in the final minute of the game.
"We knew that if we could get into our halfcourt game, we could pound the ball inside," Fostel said. "Obviously when Kainon gets in foul trouble we’re not as good a team and that was part of the problem."
So was the tempo established by Kerens in the early going, which saw the Bobcats hurt Eula with a combination of full-court pressure and buckets in transition.
With the score tied at 9 midway through the first quarter, Kerens gained the upper hand with a 7-1 spurt, including a 3-pointer by Lindsey to close the period.
The Bobcats maintained at least a seven-point edge through much of the second, but again closed with a flourish, getting late 3-pointers by Lindsey and McQuary.
McQuary’s trey came as the first-half horn sounded, giving the Bobcats an 11-point lead heading into the break.
"We played as hard tonight as I’ve ever had a team play," Enis said. "I really feel like we deserved to win it but it just didn’t fall for us."
CLASS 1A DIVISION I REGIONAL FINAL
Eula 53, Kerens 51
Eula 10 7 21 15—53
Kerens 16 12 10 13—51
EULA — George Reyes 0 1-3 1, Blake Crabtree 2 1-2 5, Jacob Archa 3 9-10 8, Garrett Scott 2 1-2 5, Kainon Irons 6 9-12 21, Austin Bartlett 1 2-3 4. Totals 14 23-32 53.
KERENS — Tobyus Thomas 2 0-0 4, Anthony McQuary 3 0-2 8, Deadra McAdams 1 1-2 3, Trey McGowan 1 0-0 2, Paul Williams 0 2-2 2, Trey Lindsey 7 1-3 17, Michael Jordan 1 3-6 5, Paul Fuqua 4 0-0 10. Totals 19 7-14 51.
3-points goals — EULA 2 (Archa 2), KERENS 6 (McQuary 2, Lindsey 2, Fuqua 2). Total fouls — Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none.
Records: EULA 35-2, KERENS 24-4