NECHES — The Neches High School boys' basketball team had the chance to play the role of spoiler heading into Tuesday's District 28-1A game with Oakwood.
But, the Panthers found the resolve to beat the Tigers, 59-56, with a standing room only crowd watching at Neches High School gymnasium.
For Oakwood High School head boys' basketball coach Michael Ostlund, it was simply a matter of the Panthers finding their “basketball legs.”
Neches has played 33 games this season while Oakwood has competed in just 20, with the Panthers not playing any basketball until mid-December.
“We've been fighting back,” Ostlund said, “and every week we have gotten a little bit better. We've had some ups and downs getting here.”
It's tougher to qualify for the playoffs in Conference 1A basketball. Only the top three teams advance to the postseason.
District 28-1A has been loaded from the onset this season with champion LaPoynor, second-place Neches, Oakwood and Laneville battling for third and fourth — and don't forget talented Chireno. The top four schools have been state ranked.
Neches head coach Randy Snider said Oakwood presents a challenge because the Panthers have quick guard play. Meanwhile, the Tigers have taller, beefier post players.
In the end, Oakwood's edge on quickness gave it a three-point win.
Even though the Panthers needed the win more, Neches didn't go down without a fight.
Neches' John Snider sliced the Panther lead to 56-53 with 27.1 seconds to go in the fourth quarter — making one free throw.
The Tigers administered tough full-court pressure; but, Oakwood's Jerimiah Sargent sprinted down the sideline and passed the ball to Chris Dorsey, who made a layup — giving the Panthers a two-possession lead again (58-53).
Neches wasn't done, yet, as Bryson Barrett knocked down a 21-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key, trimming Oakwood's lead to two.
Panther guard Trisdon Bynum made one free throw, and the Tigers ultimately ran out of time.
Sargent proved to be the fuel for Oakwood, scoring a game-high 20 points — including three 3-pointers.
“Jerimiah hit those shots,” Ostlund said, “and they were really big in a game like that. He hit them at big moments in the game.”
Sargent's 3-pointers eventually helped Oakwood transform a smidgen 21-19 halftime deficit into a lead by as many as nine points (53-44) with 1:47 to go in the fourth quarter as Bynum made two free throws.
Bynum finished with 16 points, including seven free-throw makes, and Key'Undre Davis added 12.
Terrific Neches post Carlos Quistian netted a Tiger-high 19 points, including five foul shots, while Barrett added 16 (6-of-7 free throws, two 3-pointers).
Oakwood (14-6, 12-4) will square off with Laneville in a 28-1A play-in game set for 1 p.m. on Saturday at Rusk High School's Eagle Gym.
Neches (21-12, 13-3) will play Trinidad; however, the exact date, time and place has yet to be ironed out.
Oakwood 59, Neches 56
Score by quarters
O 11 8 16 24 — 59
N 8 13 15 20 — 56
Oakwood: Jerimiah Sargent, 20; Tuddy Jones, 5; Chris Dorsey, 4; Trisdon Bynum, 16; Key'Undre Davis, 12; Garret Bean, 2
Neches: John Snider, 4; Bryant Kincade, 7; Aaron Deckard, 5; Bryson Barrett, 16; D.J. Barrett, 2; Carlos Quistian, 19; Connor Reagan, 3
Personal fouls: Oakwood 22, Neches 20; Fouled out: Garret Bean and Tuddy Jones, Oakwood; Bryant Kincade, Neches; Technical fouls: Neches, 1