Harlan tops Tiger basketball in area round

If one needed proof of the ferocity postseason basketball brings, they’d look no further than the shiner that developed under Dripping Springs Tiger junior Aidan Bailey’s left eye Friday.

The badge of honor was a lasting gift Bailey earned as the result of a grueling 48-42 loss to the state-ranked San Antonio Harlan Hawks in an area round slugfest at Judson High.

While the injury added to the disappointment of a season ending sooner than hoped for, Bailey felt the lessons learned can be a catalyst for a deeper playoff run next season.

“This group (of returning players) is expecting to get back here again,” Bailey said. “I feel like we know we’re going to get back again. We just have to go further next time.”

Tiger head coach Craig Swannack praised the efforts of his entire team for the success they experienced in 2020. That included a trendsetting Tiger senior class that became only the second in school history to qualify for the postseason in all four years they played, Swannack said.

“They pushed people to higher platforms. They challenged people to train and that built a culture of doing a little bit more and a little bit more,” Swannack said. “That culture has permeated through the entire program.”

Dripping Springs utilized that higher level of play to keep pace with a stronger Harlan program in the first 16 minutes. Both teams were tied at 10-10 after a quarter with Harlan building a slim 21-18 lead at intermission.

Swannack credited a Harlan defense that made it difficult for the Tigers “to find places to score.” At the same time, Dripping Springs’ defense countered with aggressive pressure that limited the Hawk offense from stringing together runs. Adept first half rebounding equally allowed Dripping Springs to thrive, guided by the presence of post Luke Lawyer. Swannack said he knew Friday’s contest was going to be a “war.”

“We knew we were going against a good team. We wanted to cut down their scoring,” said Tiger senior Xavier Phillips, who scored a team-high 17 points. “Once we knew we could slow them down, we knew we could play our game on offense.”

But the tone quickly changed in the second half as Harlan’s muscle wore down the Tigers, primarily in the paint. Meanwhile, Dripping Springs’ scoring struggles magnified as open shots from the floor never fell. Resulting fatigue also impacted Tiger rebounding, which suffered in the final two frames, Bailey said.

Harlan took advantage of it all and outscored the Tigers 13-8, taking a 34-26 lead midway through the final quarter.

Dripping Springs fought back and cut into the lead down the stretch aided by senior Jay Guevara and his 12 fourth quarter points. However, critical Hawk free throws, along with several missed Tiger buckets in the final minutes, allowed Harlan to keep Dripping Springs at arm’s length.

Harlan went 10 of 18 from the free throw line, all shot in the fourth quarter. Two Hawks finished in double figures with Elijah Lomas finishing with 16 points, nine of those scored in the last eight minutes. 

“They are big boys and they’re athletic. They jump high, but so did we,” Bailey said. “Honestly, I thought we fought them well in the paint. We didn’t hit our shots from outside. That’s what killed us.”

For Phillips, the bittersweet feeling of his high school career ending came with the knowledge that he and his fellow seniors are ready for the next phase. All of it credited to Swannack, whom he felt prepared them for life at the collegiate level.

“After being here four years, I’ve changed a lot. Swannack has done a lot. We changed for the best,” Phillips said. “A lot of us are going to college. He has gotten us ready for college ball.” 

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