By Mike Phillips
Special to the Daily Sun
The Kerens Bobcats didn’t know they were going to have to win the state title on Tuesday night.
But after falling to Grapeland 88-70 in the Class 1A DI regional quarterfinals at Fairfield, it sure felt that way.
They’re the No. 2 team in the state and they played like it tonight,’’ said Kerens Coach Don Enis of Grapeland. “If they shoot that well, they can beat anybody.’’
Enis isn’t giving Grapeland the state title just yet.
“There are a lot of good teams left, but if they shoot the way they shot the ball tonight they can beat anyone. They’re big, they’re athletic and they can shoot. We just ran into a buzzsaw.’’
Grapeland (31-4) lit it up in Fairfield, where they finished the first quarter with a 10-0 run to take a 23-17 lead, hitting four of their last five shots and a free throw, and opened the second quarter on fire, making 5-of-6 3-pointers to build the lead to 38-19 with five minutes left in the half.
That 3-point avalanche put Grapeland in control, and even after the Bobcats (21-8) battled back to cut the lead to 11 on a late 3 by Brandon Ward just before halftime, the Sandies just kept coming.
“We knew they could do that,’’ Enis said of Grapeland’s hot shooting in the second quarter. “We tried man-to-man. We tried a zone. When you have that many guys who can shoot that well it makes it hard on you.’’
Nate Betts had another outstanding game for Kerens, scoring 23 points and challenging Grapeland all night, and Ward showed up to play in the big game, dropping in 19 points and hitting some big shots for Kerens. Dustin Jock had his moments and scored nine points, and Donterias Bryant hit some key drives and finished with six.
But it wasn’t enough.
Grapeland shot 54 percent from the floor (23-of-42), including going 8-of-15 from beyond the arc over the first three quarters to put the game out of reach. Kerens went to the fourth down, 72-49. The Sandies also forced 18 turnovers in the first three quarters, making it tough for Kerens to make a run.
Still, this was an amazing season for the Bobcats, who had won 14 of their last 15 games before Tuesday. This is the first time in three years that Kerens won’t advance to the regionals, but that had more to do with an unkind bracket than it had to do with the Bobcats, who would no doubt be playing this weekend with a different pathway in the bracket .
“We wanted to get back to the regionals,’’ Enis said. “And there are going to be some disappointed players after this. That’s what we want.’’
That’s where the Kerens’ program is today, and despite having only one post player (who had no varsity experience) and bringing back just two players — Betts, a junior, and Shelton Sayles, a senior who scored five points Tuesday — who had valuable playing time from a year ago, Kerens won the Kiwanis Tournament, the district title and made another strong run in the playoffs.
“We had a lot of guys who did some growing up this year,’’ Enis said. “The whole playoff experience was a little new to them. It’s the first time in three years we won’t be going to the regionals. We just ran into a buzzsaw.’’