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Tenaha edges Big Sandy 81-78 in Region III Quarterfinals


TYLER—The Tenaha Tigers got the early jump on Big Sandy and then held on as the #4 state ranked Wildcats staged a furious fourth quarter comeback in the Class 1A Division 1 Region III Quarterfinals in Tyler Tuesday night. The Wildcats (31-4) entered the final quarter down by 16 points and trailed by 22 with 6:51 left in the game. Shots that didn't fall in the first half began to find the net and the Wildcats finished with 36 fourth quarter points, only to fall just shy of the Tigers, 81-78. The 8th ranked Tigers were shooting the lights outs early and jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. Chavis Gregory and Jacob Ivy, who scored 25 and 18 points, respectively, would lead the Tiger charge. Down by as many as 12 in the first half the Wildcats would answer and pull to within four points twice. Big Sandy trailed 17-13 at the end of the first quarter and eight points at halftime, 36-28. Tenaha's 22-14 advantage in the third frame dug an even deeper hole for the Wildcats, but their fourth quarter effort, a 36-23 advantage, was still phenomenal despite the eventual outcome. "I told the kids after the game I'm disappointed we lost, but was so proud of how we fought back because we gave ourselves a chance to win," commented Wildcat head coach Kevin Foster. "We were down by as much as 21 at one point and we battled back to a one possession game. I'm really proud of the kids and how we fought. "You had the 4th ranked team in state versus the 8th ranked team and whoever played the best was going to win, and honestly they played just a little bit better than we did," said Foster. Coach Foster, a former Wildcat himself, was quick to give credit to the Tigers who will now advance to the Region III tournament. The winner of the 4-team tournament will advance to the UIL State Finals in Austin, March 6-8. "I thought the one thing they did a real good job of in the first half and you have to give them credit, is that they really locked us down defensively and did a good job getting up on us and denying us an opportunity to shoot the three, which is what we like to do. "I also thought they made a lot of shots those first three quarters. They played extremely well the first three quarters and honestly we didn't, but they had a lot to do with that." Rebounding was a tough battle all night and the Tigers held the advantage in that department. "That was our number one goal coming in, trying to keep them off the glass, but when you face athletes like that…it's easier said than done. That was a big factor. We could not keep them off the glass," said Foster. Fourth quarter The Tigers started each quarter with a good run against the Wildcats and that included the fourth frame when they increased an already 16 point advantage to 22 points (64-42) by the 6:51 mark. The Wildcats aren't 30+ game winners without reason. Three point bombs that just wouldn't fall in the first half began to drop for the 'Cats in the final frame. Trent Williams hit the first of his two fourth quarter treys with 6:41 left in the ballgame. Teammate Jalen Abbey swished back-to-back treys and the Wildcats quickly cut their deficit to 13 points, 64-51, with 5:01 on the clock. The Wildcats whittled their deficit to single digits by the 4:11 mark. Trent Williams scored a layup and then picked off a steal and dished to Benson Williams who scored and drew a shooting foul. The five-point swing made it 65-56 with 4:11 left in the game. Tenaha scored twice to extend the lead to 13 again (69-56) with 3:29 left in the game. Over the next :49 seconds the Wildcats went on a scoring frenzy behind a 12-2 run to cut the margin to three points. Benson Williams and Blaine Tolar drew fouls and sank all four free throws to cut the margin to 69-60 with 3:05 on the clock. A Wildcat steal and 3-pointer by Angel Bullock at the 2:56 mark cut the margin to 69-63. Tenaha scored for a 71-63 margin with 2:47 on the clock. Jalen Abbey connected a trey and was fouled on the play. He missed the free throw, but Benson Williams tipped in the missed freebie to carve the margin to 71-68 with 2:40 left in the game. The Wildcats were within one possession three more times during the remainder of the game. A dish by Bullock to Benson Williams for an inside hoop had the 'Cats down 73-70 with 2:05 left. A layup by Benson Williams with 1:38 on the clock had the 'Cats within reach, 77-74 with 1:38 left. Tenaha hit a free throw with 1:25 on the clock (78-74) and then scored on an inside hoop by T.J. Thomas with 1:01 left to extend the lead to six points, 80-74. The teams exchanged free throws to keep the margin at six points (81-75) with :41 seconds left. The Wildcats' final three point margin came when Trent Williams hit a 3-pointer on the baseline to cut the margin to 81-78 with :28 seconds left in the ballgame. Tenaha was hoping to run the clock out but a steal by Trent Williams gave the Wildcats another shot at knotting the score. Unfortunately, the 'Cats missed a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left on the clock. Big Sandy fouled to send the Tigers to the line with 1.2 seconds left. Following an inbounds pass the Wildcats made one long chunk at the goal but would come up short and the Tigers prevailed, 81-78. "We gave ourselves a chance in the second half which is all you could ask for," bragged Coach Foster. "These kids are resilient and they played hard. "I told our seniors I was proud of them. They were in the playoffs all four years, three years in the regional quarterfinal game and one year in the regional tournament. I told them a lot of kids that play high school basketball would love to have that. I told them to be grateful." Go ahead and bet the farm. This team will be back for a long playoff run again next year. "Of the ten that we carried tonight, we will have seven back," said Foster. "If we'll get out and work and I know these kids will, we have a chance to make another good run next year which is what we're hoping for." Leading scorers The Wildcats will have to carry on without the great skills of senior Jalen Abbey, who led all scorers with a game high 27 points. Abbey collected his game high by connecting three field goals, six 3-pointers and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. "We'll miss Jalen's offensive ability," said Foster. Benson Williams turned in a super effort with 26 points. Williams scored seven field goals and was 12-of-14 from the charity stripe. Trent Williams finished in double digits with 10 points. Rounding out the scorecard for the Wildcats were, Angel Bullock, nine points; Joseph Williams, four points; and Blaine Tolar with two points. "We're definitely going to miss Blaine's defensive intensity and how hard he plays," said Foster. "I don't know if I've ever had a kid play harder than him. He plays so hard and he never quits."

Angel Bullock (23) works to strip the ball loose from Tenaha

Benson Williams (3) defends for Big Sandy

Blaine Tolar hauls down a rebound for the Wildcats

Jalen Abbey (4) battles T.J. Thomas of Tenaha

Trent Williams (12) scores a layup for Big Sandy

Zachary Dickens (20) shoots in the paint for Big Sandy


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