By JUSTIN RAINS
After the final buzzer sounded and the customary handshakes had been exchanged, the Palestine boys basketball team met at midcourt to celebrate.
Meanwhile, PHS coach Bret Botard hugged his wife and exchanged hand shakes with his fellow coaches.
After almost a decade away, the Palestine boys’ basketball team is headed back to the postseason.
The Wildcats topped visiting Rusk, 76-61, to claim the third-and-final playoff spot from District 19-3A Wednesday. Palestine will face Jasper in the bi-district round next week.
“I’m so happy for the kids, I’m happy for the community,” Botard said. “We won one district ballgame my first two years. We won 11 games total and now for these kids...to learn how to work, learn how to fight and play hard and play for each other, and get to this point here, I don’t think there’s anybody that gave us a shot to be in the playoffs when basketball season started.”
Rusk challenged only once in the game.
The Eagles, after trailing 16-8 after the first quarter, went on an 8-2 run to start the second quarter and cut the Palestine lead to two.
But, Tony Butler scored five-straight points for Palestine to end the run, the first two coming on free throws followed by a steal that led to a lay-up and a foul.
All totaled, Butler scored nine of his 14 points in that second quarter to help Palestine pull away.
Pull away they did.
Palestine led by 15 at the half, and by 19 after three quarters. On multiple occasions in the fourth, Rusk managed to get the deficit down to 14, but no further.
Palestine returns to the postseason despite suiting up only one senior on the team, Shumauri Scott.
Botard credited Scott with sticking with the program throughout the last two years, when the Wildcats won a combined 11 games — only one of which came in district play.
“Shumauri is one that stuck through the whole building process,” Botard said. “There were so many trials and tribulations, and he was always supportive and bought it. He’s the best leader on the team.
“If you don’t want to win for Shumauri Scott, you need to check your pulse.”
As for Scott, he said he’s proud to be able to say that he’s helped lay the foundation for years of Palestine basketball success to come.
“In the past, all the other seniors said that ‘we were going to do this,’ or ‘we were going to do that,’ and I was there through that,” he said. “Now I can finally say that we’re not going to do it, we did it.”
He finished with eight points and six rebounds, while Butler led the Wildcats with his 14.
Ben Luckett added 12 points and Gee Clark had 11 points and five rebounds for the Wildcats. Sheldon Watson added nine and Jarrell Owens had eight.
“You can’t explain this feeling right now, when you’ve been through the 0-10 season, when you’ve been through the season when you only won one game (in district),” Scott said. “It was a long road and we’re finally here.”
WESTWOOD 53, Woden 48
With Elkhart’s loss to Crockett, it didn’t matter whether the Westwood boys won or lost Friday, either way they were district champions.
Still, the Panthers took care of business anyway, topping Woden 53-48 on the road to finish up the regular season 21-9 overall and 11-1 in District 19-2A play.
As the district champs, the Panthers earn a bye into the second round of the playoffs.
J.J. Turner led the Panthers with 16 points, while Dra Ross had 12.
Josh Denby added seven for Westwood in the victory, and L.J. Hutchison had six.
With the bye, the Panthers won’t open up the playoffs until next Thursday at the earliest.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org