The Kerens Bobcats showed grace under pressure with Tuesday's regional quarterfinal against LaPoynor tied in the waning seconds.
Sophomore Nate Betts swished two free throws with 1.7 seconds left, capping a frantic final six seconds as Kerens survived for a 59-57 victory over LaPoynor in a Region III-1A DI quarterfinal at Tyler Junior College.
Kerens (23-7) will play San Augustine at noon Friday in a regional semifinal at Tyler Junior College.
With six seconds left and the game tied, Tobyus Thomas dribbled and passed out of trouble in the corner and found Kevin Townsel on a back cut near the basket. Townsel then made a quick decision, passing up a shot and dumping the ball down to Betts, who was fouled from behind as the clock ticked under two seconds.
Kerens had struggled all night at the line, missing all eight free throws entering the fourth quarter. But the Bobcats made 5 of 6 in the fourth, and Betts was 3 of 4 from the stripe. He drained his two free throws with great calmness, and then after LaPoynor used two timeouts to set up a final play, Kevin Townsel came up with a steal at midcourt to clinch the win.
"It was all about getting out of the corner," Kerens coach Don Enis said. "KT made a great back cut and Tobyus made a good pass. KT probably could have made a layup, but he found Nate, who wasn't going to panic there on those free throws. I have complete confidence in him."
The game was tight the whole way. There were 12 lead changes and two ties in the first half. But LaPoynor came out strong in the third quarter, building a 45-37 lead behind six points by Octavius Crear.
Kerens turned it around, sparked by reserve guard Brandon Ward, who made a 3-pointer with 1:50 left in the third quarter to ignite a 10-2 Bobcats run. Thomas capped the spurt, nailing a trey from the top of the 3-point arc as the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
"That 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third by Tobyus was huge," Enis said. "That gave us all a lift right there. Our guys don't ever think they're out of a ball game."
Kerens jumped out to a 52-47 lead to start the fourth quarter on Dustin Jock's second 3-pointer. Jock and Ward had a big night off the bench combining for 11 points.
"Brandon is a really good shooter," Enis said. "He just has some good guys playing in front of him. And Dustin can hit the 3 too. They were worried about Tobyus in the low post, and in the high-low game you need someone who can step out and hit the 3 and Dustin can do that."
LaPoynor fought back, which was the theme of the game. The Flyers tied the game at 52-52, and after Kerens pulled ahead 57-54 on two free throws by Tobyus Thomas with 3:00 left, James Jackson made a free throw and a layup with :35 seconds left to set up the final drama.
The Bobcats, who have made it to three straight regional tournaments, handled their final possession like they've been there before. And got out of Tyler with their dream of getting back to the state tournament still alive.
Kerens 59, LaPoynor 57
Kerens 13 15 19 12 -- 59
LaPoyner 13 17 17 10 -- 57
Kerens -- Tobyus Thomas 18, Shelton Sayles 5, Brandon Ward 5, Rayvon Faulk 2, Nate Betts 23, Dustin Jock 6.
LaPoynor -- Octavius Crear 8, James Jackson 11, Logan McClelland 6, Ashton Abendroth 3, Deon Johnson 23, Mason Motal 6.
Records -- Kerens 23-7, LaPoyner 25-7.