By BRAD KEITH
GLEN ROSE (February 28, 2017) — Sergio Rangel poured in 25 points to help Lingleville back into the game, but in the end it was Graford, led by Christopher Kooey with 21, that celebrated a 61-57 victory in a Region III-A boys quarterfinal at Glen Rose High School Tuesday.
Graford advances to the Region III championship tournament at Mansfield Friday and Saturday, claiming a spot in the Sweet 16 a year after Lingleville won a similar back-and-forth game between the same teams in the same playoff round. Graford faces Saltillo, a 58-56 winnor over Slidell in a regional semifinal Friday after surviving a Cardinal team that was in its sixth consecutive regional quarterfinal and advanced to the regional tournament four of the past five years.
Graford took its largest lead, 48-33, in the final seconds of the third quarter, but Lingleville fought back. The Cards got within 49-42 on an old-fashioned 3-point play by big-man Jarod Hagood, who spent much of the night in foul trouble.
The Cardinals got even closer on a hard-driving runner by Rangel, pulling within 49-44 with 3:20 still to go. Lingleville had a chance to get even closer but missed a pair of layups before an exchange of free throws and a Graford layup made it 54-46 with two minutes left.
Then Lingleville finally knocked down some shots from the arc, with Devon Corpus hitting from the right corner before Rangel buried one from the left corner. Suddenly, it was 54-52 with 1:10 still remaining.
But Preston Tabor made the biggest play of the night for the Jackrabbits, driving and shooting through a foul, then watching nervously as the gym fell silent, the ball bouncing three times on the rim before falling softly through the net to send the Graford fans into an uproar of applause. He added the free throw for a 57-52 lead, and the Jackrabbits were on their way to regionals.
It was a six-point lead before Bailey Fenn hit an 18-foot baseline jumper and Lingleville called timeout trailing 58-54 with 20 seconds left. Tabor made one of two foul shots on the other end before Rangel struck from about 5 feet above the top of the key with a hand in his face, a Lingleville 3 that trimmed it to 59-57.
There were only 8.84 seconds remaining, however, and when the Cardinals couldn’t steal the ensuing inbound, they had to foul. Tabor calmly knocked down both free throws with 7.75 seconds to play, and Lingleville missed at the buzzer to end the playoff thriller.
Tabor finished with 12 for Graford, eight of them in the fourth quarter when he scored all but five of his team’s points.
Lingleville also picked up eight points from Tom VanKranenburg, six – all in the fourth – by Fenn, five from Hagood, whose early foul trouble proved to be the biggest difference in the game, five by Corpus, four by Luke Whiteley, three from Tyson Click and and one from Meine Huisman.
The game was back and forth early, with Graford scoring the first five, Lingleville the next seven and Graford the next six for an 11-7 lead en rout to a 16-12 edge after a quarter. It was a five-point game before the Jackrabbits scored the final five of the first half on a Tabor free throw, a Leo Belvantin layup and a takeaway and breakaway layup by Kooey for a 32-22 lead at intermission.
Lingleville cut a 12-point deficit to six midway through the third, but the Jackrabbits were up double digits again after a reverse layup by Kooey and eventually led by 15 after a Tabor floater. Rangel scored in the paint at the third quarter buzzer for Lingleville.