Third-Ranked Grapeland Advances to Class A Division I Region III Championship
TYLER -- After losing in the last Class A Division I Region III semifinals the previous two years, the Grapeland Sandies finally got over the hump.
No. 3 Grapeland (33-4) was too big and fast for No. 6 Dallardsville Big Sandy, as the Sandies defeated the Wildcats, 75-60, Friday in front of a raucous crowd at Tyler Junior College's Wagstaff Gym.
Grapeland (33-4) moved on to face eighth-ranked San Augustine in the regional championship at 10 a.m. Saturday.
"Getting over the hump was all these kids talked about yesterday," said Grapeland coach Owen Clifton. "For us right now, we're really excited -- excited to get to move on to the next game. We set our goal that we wanted to make the state tournament, and we're one win away. That's pretty awesome."
Grapeland's Jacolby Simpson was all over the court. The 6-3 junior poured in a game-high 25 points and added eight rebounds, three assists, four blocks and three steals. He scored eight straight points early in the third quarter -- all from cutting baseline, pull-jumpers. His jumpshot at the 4:31 mark gave Grapeland a 50-31 lead.
Then, teammate William Whitehead came off the bench, snatched consecutive steals and threw down two thunderous dunks as the Sandies looked to pull away late in third.
But Big Sandy (28-9) answered with an 11-2 run, starting with a Jalen Abbey four-point play and ending when Naaman Williams got a steal and layup, which brought the Wildcats within 12, 54-42. Big Sandy scored 25 in the third, hitting four 3-pointers. But after every Wildcats run, there was a Grapeland spurt to counter it.
"We knew (Big Sandy was) going to make a run," Clifton said. "They didn't get this far to give up. When (Patrick Walker) went out with four fouls, I was really proud of our other boys stepping up, playing smart, not panicking and my freshmen played fantastic."
When Grapeland's Quaderius Whitt drained a 3-pointer from the corner, the Sandies led 61-44 at the 7:20 mark of the fourth and held on the rest of the way. Whitt had 16 points, five rebounds and three blocks, while Walker added 12 points, seven boards, three assists and four steals.
Grapeland's size and speed was ultimately too much for Big Sandy to overcome. The Sandies outrebounded the Wildcats, 33-17, blocked 10 shots and racked up 12 steals through three quarters.
Big Sandy was led by Abbey's 24 points, and four rebounds. Freshman Angel Bullock added 14 points, including three 3's and a 6-for-6 performance from the charity stripe. Williams finished with 10.
Grapeland opened on an 8-0 run, and led 18-11 after the first period. The Sandies staged a 17-3 run late in the first half, capped off by a Whitt steal and coast-to-coast layup, pushing Grapeland's lead to 38-19 at halftime.