PALESTINE -- Not a coaching change, not jumping from Class 2A to Class 4A. Nothing held Tatum from reaching its third consecutive regional tournament.

The Eagles held off Waco La Vega late for a 56-48 win in the 4A regional quarterfinals Tuesday at Palestine High School. They're moving on to the Region III tournament at Sam Houston State in Huntsville.

"I knew these guys were winners, going to the state championship game last season," first-year head coach Layne Boxell said. "But to move up to this level and not miss a beat is pretty special. It's a testament to what type of kids they are and what type of character they've got."

Jalan Horne tries to find a man in the lane against defense from La Vega's Parrish Cobb in Tuesday's regional quarterfinal playoff game. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

This was a big one for Tatum (27-10). The program jumped up to meet predominantly former 3A schools and form the UIL's new 4A classification in last year's realignment.

La Vega (19-10), which led through most of the first half, made the Eagles fight to the end.

A 3-point shot from junior forward Brandon Benson cut Tatum's lead down to 49-48 with 2:03 to play. La Vega called its third timeout at that point.

The Eagles did not allow another point out of the break.

Furthermore, the East Texas team won the late defensive rebound battle, 4-1, and shot 7-for-8 from the free throw line as La Vega became desperate for steals and reasons to stop the clock.

"The game came down to big free throws, less turnovers and coming out to battle," guard Martin Williams said. "This is a relief. Since I'm a senior, I'm just thankful that I'm not going home. I feel like I've still got a lot of work to do and a lot of things to play for. I'm very excited we're headed back to the regional tournament."

Williams played a big role in the victory. Fourteen of his game-best 18 points came in the second half.

Senior guard Chaston Brooks, a Lamar football signee, followed with 12 points and seven rebounds for Tatum. Senior forward Jakoby Lee also got into double digits with 10 points.

Kyshaun Smith, yet another senior and a Stephen F. Austin football signee, broke the ice with a layup to give Tatum a 2-0 lead with 6:39 to play in the first quarter. Five straight points from La Vega's Amariye Blunson, however, started a deficit the Eagles weren't able to overcome until midway through the second quarter.

Martin Williams drives hard for a layup, but La Vega's Cameron Jackson got a hard block off the backboard. It was one of four blocks for La Vega in the game. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Tatum closed the half on an 8-3 run for a 26-22 lead at the break.

The Eagles' lead advanced to nine points twice in the third quarter and it was 43-35 at the end of the period.

But Benson's 3-pointer capped a 13-6 stretch in La Vega's favor through the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to set up the game's finish.

"There's a lot of seniors that don't want to go home," Boxell said. "We talk about that all the time. Every night, one is going home and one is advancing. When you've got nine seniors, I think that kind of hits the spot."

La Vega could be in a similar position next season. It only played three seniors and will recall eight letter winners for the next campaign.

Blunson and Benson, both juniors, led nine La Vega scorers with 15 and nine points, respectively.

Tatum -- which knocked out No. 5 Fairfield last week -- will square off with No. 2 Houston Sterling at 8 p.m. Friday inside Sam Houston State's Johnson Coliseum. The winning team will take on either  No. 10 Silsbee or Mexia in the Region III championship game.

"It's one of the best feelings ever, man," Williams said. "There's not a lot of teams in a region that can make the regional finals. Anything is possible from here."

Tatum head coach Layne Boxell and senior guard Martin Williams celebrate the narrow win against La Vega. The Eagles advanced to the Class 4A Region III tournament in Huntsville. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Tatum 56, Waco La Vega 48

Boys Class 4A Region III Quarterfinal
At Palestine High School, Palestine

Tatum         9      17    17    13    --    56
La Vega      13      9    13    13    --    48
TATUM (27-10) -- Martin Williams 18; Chaston Brooks 12; Jakoby Lee 10; Jalan Horne 5; Kyshaun Smith 5; Devonte Alexander 2; K.J. Boyd 2; Stephen Marshall 2.
LA VEGA (19-10) -- Amariye Blunson 15; Brandon Benson 9; Kendrick James 7; Tiyun Kendricks 6; Cameron Jackson 3; Moses Chase 2; Parrish Cobb 2; Quinton Hill 2; Waahid Muhammad 2.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Tatum: Horne, Smith. La Vega: Blunson (3), Benson, Jackson, Kendricks.