By JASON GORDON
The Hays boys basketball team proved it can play with some of the most athletic teams in Central Texas during its fourth-place finish in the Rebel Classic.
Easy wins over Wimberley and Crockett Thursday advanced Hays into the Rebel Classic semifinals Friday afternoon.
There, the Rebs took on a talented Leander squad, looking to get a measure of revenge for the Hays football team who had recently fallen to the Lions in the area round of the playoffs.
The Rebels fell behind Leander 35-20 in the third quarter and it looked like the Lions were going to run away with an easy win at Bales Gym, but Hays would have none of that.
The Rebs rallied in a big way in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win in the end.
Steven Jass hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to bring Hays to within 36-26 early in the fourth quarter.
Stephen Ayala found Jass with a long pass for a layup to continue the run, and consecutive offensive rebounds and layups by Heath Agnew and Ayala cut the gap to 37-32 with just over five minutes to play in the game.
“We’re never going to quit and we’re never going to stop fighting,” Ayala said. “We never think we’re out of a basketball game.”
Hays head coach Dean McMullen agreed.
“Whether these kids are up 20 or down 20 they are going to give the same kind of effort,” McMullen said. “You saw what we’re all about in that fourth quarter.”
Leander stretched the margin to 43-36 but Hays wasn’t nearly finished.
Agnew and Jacob Rodriguez hit back-to-back 15-footers to bring Hays to within 43-40 with two minutes left.
Jass’ two free throws made it 45-42 Leander with under a minute to play. The Lions increased the lead with a free throw, but Jass’ traditional three-point play made it 46-45 with 24 seconds left.
Agnew’s defensive pressure gave Hays a chance to win it at the end and advance to the Rebel Classic finals.
Rodriguez grabbed an offensive rebound near the basket with four seconds to play. He went up for a shot and appeared to be absolutely mauled by a Lions defender but no foul call was made by the officials.
Hays had the ball out of bounds under their own basket with two seconds left, but failed to get a shot off after fumbling the inbounds play.
Jass led Hays’ comeback charge by scoring all 12 of his points in the game in the final eight minutes. Rodriguez led the Rebels with 15 points against Leander.
“The gym got real loud when we were making that comeback and I was sure we were going to win it,” Ayala said. “We were real disappointed we didn’t, but these are the kinds of games that will get you ready for the tough district season.”
Hays faced another ultra-athletic foe in Harker Heights in the third-place game Saturday.
The Rebels again rallied from a third-quarter deficit to trim the gap to 46-44 with two minutes to play, but Hays went into an offensive funk from there and didn’t score again in the 50-44 loss.
Agnew, who led Hays in scoring with a total of 37 points against Wimberley and Crockett on Thursday, was named to the All-Tournament Team.
The Rebels will play at Burnet on December 18 before opening the district season December 21 at Lockhart. Last season, Hays won its first boys basketball playoff game since 1980.