Critical plays in the final minutes, along with a 17-point effort by senior forward Cullen Young, lifted Dripping Springs (25-13) past the Laredo Martin Tigers (26-10) in a gritty 33-29 half-court slugfest at the Northside Sports Gym in San Antonio.
Dripping Springs’ win, which is the team’s eighth in a row, advances them to Saturday’s Class 5A, Region IV final where they play the Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial Eagles at 3 p.m. at the Northside Sports Gym.
It also marks the second time in school history Dripping Springs has reached the regional final playoff round, with the Tigers last reaching the regional finals in 1986.
Combating a “scrappy” Laredo Martin defense was a challenge for Dripping Springs, which struggled to generate consistency on offense.
Martin’s physical play, along with a formidable 2-3 zone, limited Dripping Springs’ presence in the paint. Dripping Springs head coach Craig Swannack said Martin was the best defense Dripping Springs had seen thus far.
“Shots weren’t falling in the beginning,” Young said. “After we got a few in, it calmed us down.”
Dripping Springs trailed by as many as six points in the first half, but used a late 8-3 second quarter run to pull within 17-16 at halftime.
Dripping Springs found its stride in the second half by focusing its efforts in the paint. Young shouldered the load by scoring 12 of his 17 points in the final 16 minutes of the contest. Dripping Springs also utilized their size advantage on the glass by out-rebounding Martin 13-5 in the second half and 22-13 in the game.
Swannack credited his team’s patience and their ability to “keep trying stuff until we found things that worked.”
“We knew Martin was going to be scrappy and we knew they were going to be tough physically and mentally,” Swannack said. “We knew it was going to be tough to overcome.”
A bucket at the buzzer by Young gave Dripping Springs a 24-22 lead, and momentum, heading into the fourth quarter.
Guided by Young, senior guard Nick Breen and a plucky defense, Dripping Springs kept Martin at an arm’s distance the rest of the way.
A Breen 3-pointer gave Dripping Springs a 29-24 lead with 4:24 left in the game. After a Martin 3-pointer, Young followed with two key free throws to give Dripping Springs a 31-27 lead.
Martin, led by junior guard Luis Ortegon, fought to rally back and draw even with Dripping Springs. Ortegon scored a team-high eight points in the game.
What transpired was a frenetic two-minute stretch that featured turnovers, sloppy play and missed scoring opportunities on both sides.
Martin pulled to within two points at 31-29 and had a late chance to tie, but a shot by senior Jaime Garcia missed the mark. A late bucket scored by Dripping Springs helped them seal the victory.
Dripping Springs now readies for Veterans Memorial, which eliminated Austin LBJ Friday.
“We all feel like we’re playing with house money,” Swannack said. “We’re going to go out there and do what we do.”
While the win wasn’t always pretty at times, Swannack said his team is used to winning games in different ways.
“We’ve learned how to win about 15 different ways so far this year, so we were ready to win ugly,” Swannack said.