By BRYAN URBACH
The Grapeland Sandies are headed to Austin.
The basketball team beat out the LaPoynor Flyers, 85-71, on Saturday at Tyler Junior College to book its ticket to the State Tournament.
Grapeland’s Jacolby Simpson started off the game against the Flyers on fire as he had five three-pointers in the first half.
The Sandies got off to a 20-13 start after the first quarter, and the atmosphere in the building intensified as both sides knew what was at stake.
In the second quarter, Grapeland saw its lead start to dwindle as LaPoynor got into a rhythm and started to feel more comfortable.
The Flyers outscored the Sandies in the second quarter 25-21 to cut the Sandies' lead to 41-38 heading into halftime.
Patrick Walker for the Sandies gave a stellar performance for Grapeland by scoring 29 points in the game. Afterward, Grapeland coach Owen Clifton said both Walkers (Patrick and Shaun) and Simpson stepped up with the rest of the senior class and helped pull out the win for the Sandies.
“Those guys are the seniors for us,” Clifton said. “Shaun was huge for us in the fourth quarter with his defense and going to the bucket and getting some quick layups. These seniors deserve it so much, and I’m so proud of them.”
Coming out of halftime, the Sandies had a few things on their mind, one of them being defense.
After allowing 25 points in the second quarter, the Sandies allowed just 14 in the third quarter while they scored 18 of their own.
“We knew we had to step it up on defense,” Clifton said. “We weren’t doing a good job containing No. 3 (Octavious Crear) on their team. He’s such a great player, and he’s so quick off the dribble. We weren’t helping each other, we were reaching. So, we made an emphasis of that in the second half, and they did a great job of coming back and getting the job done. I’m just so proud of these guys.”
In the fourth quarter, the Sandies could feel the pressure rising as they came closer to winning the game and heading to Austin.
Even with all of the pressures of the State Tournament on the line, the Sandies were able to keep calm and keep scoring.
Grapeland outscored LaPoynor 26-19 in the final frame to take the game, winning 85-71.
“It feels excellent to be moving on,” Clifton said. “It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet and hasn’t hit me, but I’m just so proud of these boys. I’m proud of them. They went out there and played their hearts out, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Patrick Walker and Simpson lead the team in points with 29 and 24 respectively. Other Grapeland top scorers include Dominic Decello with 10 points, Jaques Faulk with eight points, Shaun Walker with six points, William Whitehead with five points and five rebounds and John McKnight with three points.
The Sandies will be vying for their first State Championship since the 84-85 season.
Standing in their way, starting on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in Austin at Frank Erwin Center, will be the Muenster Hornets.
The Hornets are 27-2 on the year, and will be a tough test for the Sandies.