Just as I predicted last week, I was taken off my normal all-stock show tour and sent out on the road to follow the Central High School boys basketball team to Fort Stockton in their playoff quest to the state tournament. This is the first week of boys playoff basketball, and to tell you truth, I was happy to be out of the Livestock Barn. That's one of the great things about this job, it changes up from day to day.
First up on the list of opponents for the Bobcats was the Thunderbirds of El Paso Coronado in the bi-district round. If you look at the two teams on paper you would think to yourself, "How on earth is Central going to be able to compete?" Coronado was touting a 31-1 overall record coming into the game, ranked 9th in the state and had already beaten Central once this year by 17 points. Thankfully, the Central players don't pay attention to rankings and statics and rely on team work and a can-do attitude to get what they want done.
What a great game! It seemed like the Bobcats had a chip on their shoulder from the last time they met the Thunderbirds in the Doug McCutchen Memorial Tournament last December. They came out firing on all cylinders hitting six 3-pointers in the first half and held a 25-24 lead at the half. The Thunderbirds looked a little stunned as they made their way back to the locker room, realizing that this was not the same team they played two months ago.
Central kept up the pace in the second half and extended their lead with just over seven minutes to play. But there's a reason that Coronado is 9th in the state and they slowly began to work themselves back into the lead. Coronado went on a 10-0 run and stalled the game for over five minutes. Central didn't score again until senior Adrian Neira sunk a few free-throws with 1:57 left in the game. Almost immediately following Neira's free-throws, Central's Justin Saddler stole the ball and put in a basket to bring the Bobcats within one at 41-40.
With just 13 seconds remaining the Bobcats found themselves down by three points, 43-40. They needed some help, and it came by way of Adrian Neira. Attempting to put up a three-point shot as time ticked away, Neira was fouled by two Coronado defenders and sent to the free-throw line. Neira calmly walked to the line and sunk all three shots as if he were at some random practice at school instead of a season-ending playoff game. We were headed to overtime.
Unfortunately, Central's heroics would end there. Central never held a lead in overtime and finished their season with a 58-54 loss. It was fun while it lasted and I hope that all the other playoff games I shoot over the next week are as exciting. Congratulations on a great season Bobcats!