Way back when small-school playoff pairings were announced, Stonewall head coach Wes Moreland told everyone who asked that the Class A District Tournament matchup against old rival Allen was a disservice to both teams.
Moreland said he felt like the Longhorns and Mustangs were almost “mirror images” of each other. And when that district do-or-die game finally arrived Friday night in Roff, he made Moreland a prophet.
The Longhorns needed a steal of an inbounds pass by senior Rowdy Rodriguez with 4.9 seconds left in the game to hold on for a breath-taking 40-38 victory.
Stonewall improved to 15-10 and earned the right to face district host and 15th-ranked Roff in a game played late Saturday night, while Allen ended its season 10-12.
“Both teams competed so hard tonight. We were just fortunate enough to come away with the win,” Moreland said. “Like I told (Allen head coach Greg Mills), it’s bad that we got a district like this where two teams like ours should be advancing. It’s just crazy.”
Mills believes his kids deserved a better fate.
“I’m not disappointed in my kids at all. They laid it on the line last night,” he said. “That was a packed house. It was quite a first-round ballgame. It felt like it was a regional finals. It was a pretty tough game.”
Mills said any of a number of plays could have swung the pendulum Allen’s way. It was a far cry from the 21-point loss the Longhorns handed the Mustangs Jan. 11 at the Moss Tournament.
“A bounce here or there and we’re still playing. It just didn’t bounce that way,” he said. “We had our opportunities. I thought our game plan and everything was right.”
The game was tied at 35-all before Tommy Lee Peay drilled a 3-pointer to put Allen ahead 38-35 with just over three minutes to play. The Mustangs wouldn’t score again.
Gage Burns scored seconds later to get Stonewall within 38-37. Dakota Morgan then hit two rare Stonewall free throws with 1:21 to play to give his team the lead for good at 39-37. The Longhorns made just 6-of-18 free throws in the game.
“We have to do a better job shooting free throws. That’s been hurting us all year,” Moreland said.
Stonewall missed two free throws in the final 47 seconds, but Allen was unable to capitalize. And after Mills called time out with 4.9 ticks left to set up the final play, Rodriguez made his game-saving theft and hit a free shot with 1.9 showing.
“Rowdy is so quick. He’s able to do some things on the defensive end. He got his hands on a few balls throughout the game that kind of changed the pace of it,” Moreland said.
Allen actually led 7-0 to start the game, but Stonewall had trimmed the deficit to 11-10 heading into the second quarter. The two teams traded scores for most of that period before Stonewall took a slim 18-17 lead at intermission.
“It was just a battle. Defensively, they did a great job on us all night. We had a real hard time scoring,” Moreland said.
A seesaw third quarter featured a whopping seven lead changes, with Allen holding on to a 30-26 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.
Junior Chase Findley was tough to handle in the paint, as he finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Longhorns. Burns was next with eight points and seven boards.
“Findley was big for us inside,” Moreland said.
Allen got 10 points from scoring leader Joseph Hopper, who spend nearly as much time on the bench as he did on the floor. He picked up his third fould at the 5:16 mark of the second quarter and was whistled for foul No. 4 at the 7:24 mark of the fourth period.
“We fought foul trouble all night long. The Hopper kid never really got into the flow of the game. He only played about two quarters,” Mill said. “He’s a difference-maker on our team.”
Freshman Ty Brown and Peay contributed nine points apiece for Allen. Post player Zayne Erickson added six points and 11 rebounds.
“Like I told (my players), we beat a pretty good team tonight,” Moreland said.
Allen will bid farewell to seniors Hopper, Erickson, Little Sky Frazier and Shawn Rolen.
“They did a heckuva job for me this year,” Mills said.