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Area boys hoops teams have state berths in sight

March 1, 2019

The next rung on the ladder to a berth into the UIL boys state basketball tournament March 7-9 at the Alamodome will be climbed this weekend in gymnasiums in and around San Antonio.

Five area teams — Steele in Class 6A, Sam Houston and Wagner in 5A and Cole and Randolph in 3A — are only two wins from securing a spot to the sport’s largest stage.

Here are some key storylines to follow:

Teams of destiny?

Wagner was a prohibitive favorite to still be playing at this time of the season. Sam Houston, while not as much of a trendy pick, was nonetheless one of those teams that had the talent to put together a deep postseason run.

The squads’ different narratives have traveled to the same destination — the Region IV-5A tournament Friday and Saturday at Littleton Gym.

Wagner (30-5) is in the UIL’s version of the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons and the fifth time overall. It made it this far in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2017, advancing to the state tournament in 2009, 2010 and 2017.

The Thunderbirds have won 16 in a row since falling to Denton Guyer on Dec. 28, a dominance that has carried into the playoffs. They won their three postseason contests by 28.7 points, including a 82-59 triumph over Brackenridge in the third round in which Wagner got a key boost from bench players Brian Bigley and Kaijon Thornton, who combined for 21 points.

Guard Jalen Jackson led the way with 19 points, while Journee Phillips and Isaiah Kennedy contributed 16 apiece.

Sam Houston (25-8) has won 12 straight since a 40-37 loss to Alamo Heights on Jan. 8. The Hurricanes avenged that setback with a 67-62 overtime victory over Alamo Heights on Feb. 8, a triumph that not only came in the final basketball game played in Alamo Heights’ venerable Mule Dome, but propelled them to the District 27-5A championship.

The Hurricanes, in the regional tournament for 11th time in 19 seasons and for the first time since 2015, have won comfortably in two of their three playoff games and needed some heroics in the other to remain alive. Guard Bralyn Sanchez banked in a 3-pointer from near halfcourt to propel Sam Houston past Dripping Springs, 45-43, in the second round.

The one and only

The area’s Class 6A landscape this season was defined by parity, translating into plenty of good teams but not necessarily a dominant one.

Steele (28-8) was perhaps the closest thing to fitting the bill.

It is reflective in the fact the Knights are the area’s last hope to advance to the state tournament in the UIL’s largest classification. They are in the regional tournament for third time in seven seasons and the first since 2016. The Knights also made it this far in 2013.

Led by Langston Love, Alijah Cormithier and Kwabena Davis, Steele has won eight in a row since a 69-59 loss to Clemens on Jan. 25. The Knights beat their Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD foe 111-61 on Dec. 21.

If there is such a thing as a team learning more from a loss than from a win, Steele is proving as much. During their current winning streak, the Knights are prevailing by an average of 16.1 points. They won their three playoff contests by 18 points, with Tuesday’s 73-66 overtime win over Austin Westlake by the closest decision.

Love had 33 points, and Quincey Shepherd added 13 for Steele in the third-round win in San Marcos.

Army vs. Air Force, Part III?

One thing that was apparently clear during the season was that there was a good chance that District 26-3A might have a big say in who won the Region IV-3A title.

The theory is playing out to form.

Cole, Randolph and Marion finished in a three-way tie for the league crown, which each splitting home-and-away district series against each other.

Randolph (32-2) and Cole (32-5) are the last ones standing from the league and head into the Region IV-3A tournament in Seguin with a strong possibility of facing off for the regional crown.

Cole plays Santa Rosa in a regional semifinal at 6 p.m., and Randolph faces Odem at 8 p.m. Santa Rosa defeated Cole 80-66 in last year’s regional final.

If the 26-3A opponents can prevail Friday, they would meet for the third time this season with a trip to the state tournament on the line. In the first meeting this season Jan, 11, Cole won, 64-60. In the second encounter, Randolph came out on top, 68-65, in overtime Jan. 29.

Randolph defeated Hallettsville 58-50 in the third round behind AJ Haines’ 20 points. Logan Bracamonte added 15 and Austin Nunez chipped in 10. Xavier Epps scored 10 points to lead a balanced scoring attack as Cole edged Marion, 43-33.

tthomas@express-news.net

Twitter: @en_terrence