Martin’s Mill Boys Will Try To Deliver School’s Second State Championship In Seven-Day Span
TYLER -- UT-Tyler's Herrington Patriot Center was a shell of itself Tuesday.
Seats pushed back and stacked vertically. Dimmer than normal lighting.
The season is over for the area's big stage. This year is over for everyone except Martin's Mill High School.
The Mustangs conducted the final organized practice in East Texas on Tuesday at UT-Tyler. They'll travel to San Antonio on Wednesday to begin what could be the school's finest athletics hour as one of just four teams state-wide still contending for the Class 2A championship.
"This isn't going to compare to the Alamodome, but the rollaway goals and the emptiness behind the backboard lets them see the depth perception will be a little bit different," head coach Trae Moore said as his second-ranked team formed a conga line and mugged for a news camera. "But the goals are still going to be 10 feet."
Tuesday's practice was very at ease. The team, on spring break this week, practiced earlier in the day on their home floor and conducted a simple shoot around at the larger facility.
Moore thinks the most relaxed team at the state tournament will probably win it all.
But there's a lot riding on the next few days.
Martin's Mill (33-4) has the opportunity to win its second state championship in a seven-day span. The girls team won the 2A state championship Saturday. The boys could win for the first time since 1949.
If the team can get it done, the school will be the first in 11 years to sweep both Texas state championships of a respective classification and only the ninth in state history.
Shallowater most recently did it in 2004.
The Mustangs' semifinal opponent at 10 a.m. Friday, No. 7 Canadian, is going for a 2A boys basketball championship on top of the 2A Division I football state championship it earned in December. Canadian could become the seventh school in state history to accomplish that feat.
Martin's Mill does not participate in football.
In the other state semifinal game, Dallardsville Big Sandy will try to justify its No. 1 ranking.
No. 10 Shculenberg, of course, will be competing for a berth into the state championship game as if that was not a big enough stake.
"It's hard for anybody to compete with (our girls') nine out of 10 trips to the state tournament in the past 10 years," Moore said. "We've had our successes, but if you're going to judge us against that it's hard to do. We've been to the regional tournament six times in the last 11 years and been to the state tournament three times."
Moore hopes the third time is the charm. The Martin's Mill boys lost a triple overtime semifinal game in 2006 and lost in the following year's title game.
There was promise in the UT-Tyler shoot around. Players hit periods where they couldn't miss, proving the primary seven-man rotation's 40 percent shooting from 3-point land is not some stat sheet typo.
"This is the slowest spring break ever," senior forward Dylan Weatherford said. "There's a lot of anticipation. You really want to be here, but you don't want it to be over. We're enjoying it. This is probably the best team we've had here in a while. Our defense has really excelled through the playoffs, so has our shooting, but our defense has really gotten us to where we are."
The state tournament is nearly a blind ride. Canadian, a school 100 miles northeast of Amarillo with an overall record of 19-1, is hard to judge since Martin's Mill has no common opponents to base perceptions.
The Mustangs initially thought they'd play a team with a physical inside presence since Canadian was tough enough to survive the football playoffs. But that's not the whole story.
"When we first learned it would be Canadian and they had won the football state championship I thought, 'Oh great, it'll be some bigger guys that are able to battle it out on the boards in West Texas and we'll be able to run them into the ground," Moore said. "Then we get the film and they look a lot like us. It should be a good game. They play a lot like we do."
If the Mustangs get past Canadian, they could draw Big Sandy in Saturday's 1:30 p.m championship game. That would be a rematch of the 1949 title game Martin's Mill won.
It's an intriguing idea, and it has surviving players from both sides' 1949 teams planning trips to the Alamo City.
"We're so proud of our girls," senior guard Drew Ingram said. "But you can't let the girls beat you. Now we have to go there and win. We want to go get two state championships for the same school."
The time for talk and speculation ended at UT-Tyler's vacated arena.
There's only one active venue in the state. And the Mustangs are heading toward it.
"The anticipation is killing us," junior guard Davis Moore said. "Saturday, when we won, I just wanted to go ahead and get on the bus and start playing. The trip will be some fun, but it's mostly business. The funnest part is winning the championship. That's what we're looking forward to. It's going to be like a dream come true. It's going to be cool."