Finding the words to describe a wild week of emotions was a bit difficult for Dripping Springs Tiger senior post Nick Statz Friday.
On one hand was the thrill of celebrating a last-second Feb. 19 bi-district round win over Boerne Champion with his teammates. On the other was watching Sam Houston Hurricane guard Bralyn Sanchez bank a desperation half-court buzzer-beating bucket to end the Tigers’ season in a 45-43 area round heartbreaker.
While it wasn’t an ideal way to finish the season, Statz said defying low expectations at the start of the year far surpassed a tough ending.
“No one expected us to make the playoffs. Getting there, that was a big deal,” Statz said. “But the buzzer beater last week (against Champion), I now know what they’re going through. That’s the way it goes.”
Dripping Springs (23-9) overcame a plethora of first half struggles to rally back and attain a lead late in the final quarter.
At the center of Dripping Springs’ comeback was bypassing a speedy Hurricane defense that harried the Tigers for the majority of the contest.
Craig Swannack, Dripping Springs head coach, said playing a slower pace of basketball, which was the Tigers’ style, led to success in the second half. A key attribute the Tigers talked about was playing under control as Sam Houston was “going to speed us up,” Swannack said.
That was easier said than done, however, as Sam Houston utilized an aggressive press-style defense to force 19 Tiger turnovers in the game. Letting their playmakers make plays, as well as staying patient and feeding 6-foot, 9-inch Statz in the post, allowed the Tigers to whittle down a 25-21 halftime deficit, Swannack said.
“They tried to make us play out of control. You saw a bit of that early on. We rushed a few shots, but once we settled down, we did a good job,” Swannack said.
Dripping Springs outscored Sam Houston 11-6 in the third frame, carried by several key buckets from senior Enzo Arnold and juniors Trace Young and Xavier Phillips.
While the Tigers fell apart before halftime, Statz said the team pulled together to get back into contention. Statz cited the experience Dripping Springs had during its tough district slate. Statz and Arnold both finished with a team-high 11 points.
“We just had to pull it back and slow it down,” Statz said.
Those efforts gave the Tigers a 43-41 advantage with less than two minutes left.
But several key Tiger miscues down the stretch, as well as a key Hurricane free throw, cut the Tiger lead to 43-42 and gave Sam Houston life late in the contest. That set the stage for Sanchez, who in three dribbles got to mid-court and banked the game winning shot off of the backboard.
Despite the last-second loss, Swannack was proud of his team’s efforts and continued progress of the program. For the third straight year, Dripping Springs’ boys basketball team not only made the postseason, but also made it past the bidistrict round.
Swannack credited the foundation built by the senior class and what he said is “probably one of the most unselfish teams I’ve coached.”
“There were a few mistakes, but these guys are an amazing group of young men,” Swannack said. “I’m proud of their fight and what they’ve done.”