Inch by inch, Earl Farley sees his players growing every time they step on the court.
On Friday afternoon, Farley’s Waco High Lions made a significant growth spurt — maybe by a full foot or more. Fueled by the sweet shooting stroke of Ty’ric Crosby, the Lions upended crosstown rival Midway, 76-68, in an entertaining boys’ quarterfinal meeting of the M.T. Rice Holiday Basketball Tournament at Midway.
The victory marked a radical step forward in the development of the Lions, who lost to those same Panthers, 64-53, earlier in the season.
“We got beat by those guys about a month ago, and I told the guys, ‘Stay focused, our time is coming,’” Farley said. “They did a great job of teamwork.”
With the win, Waco High advanced on to Friday night’s semifinals, where the Lions saw their quest for the tournament title come to an end at the hand of a strong Houston Christian team, 69-56.
Against Midway (14-6), the Lions sensed an opportunity and wasted no time seizing it. Before some of the fans had even filtered in from the parking lot, Waco High (14-9) sprinted out to an 11-1 lead, with Jimmy Veal banging in a 3-pointer and Crosby contributing a steal and breakaway layup and a gorgeous, James Harden-like step-back trey.
Crosby continued to pick the Panthers apart from deep throughout the game, banging down four 3-pointers en route to a game-best 28 points.
With the win, Waco High ensured that Midway’s M.T. Rice title drought — the Panthers last won their home tournament in 1983 — would extend at least another year. But Midway didn’t go down without a tussle. Trailing 21-12 after a quarter, the Panthers scratched back in the second quarter, helped by the hustling, heady play of Diego Gonzalez. The athletic junior guard hit a reverse layup in traffic and hung in the air to score a putback inside on his way to seven points in the quarter and 11 for the game.
Midway sliced the Waco High lead to 38-35 by the halftime stoppage, and the game remained tight the rest of the way. Crosby tossed in 12 points in the third quarter to give the Lions a spark, including a driving hoop-and-the-harm layup at the quarter buzzer, sending his team to a 59-52 lead heading into the final period.
What aided Waco High’s finishing flourish the most was an active, quick-rotating defensive effort that presented Midway enough problems to lead to the Panthers’ lowest-scoring game of the tourney.
“I felt great about it, because we’ve been working hard defensively,” Farley said. “We’ve got to get a little better at blocking out, but it’s coming. It’s an improvement, it’s coming.”
Waco High never relinquished the lead in the fourth, and Dale Smith punctuated the win, exclamation point-style, for the Lions with a runout dunk in the final minute off the game.
Midway put four players in double figures, led by Will Rigney’s 13 points. Anthony Scott and Levi Whiddon hit for 12 points apiece, while Gonzalez had 11.
For Waco High, Smith and Veal complemented Crosby’s big night with 13 points each, and A.J. West added 10. In the waning moments of the game, the Waco High portion of the bipartisan crowd chanted, “Waco High! Waco High!” in celebration of a breakthrough win.
“It’s big. Very big,” Farley said. “It’s a big motivation for us, especially getting us ready for district. I’m so proud of our guys.”
However, Waco High couldn’t keep the momentum rolling, dropping its first game of the tournament to Houston Christian later Friday. The championship game will pit Houston Christian against Lake Ridge at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Midway Arena.
Midway 54, Rockwall Heath 42
Midway’s girls wear T-shirts during their shootaround times that feature the question, “If Not Us, Then Who?”
The Pantherettes are trying to make sure it’s us — not whoever else.
Midway demonstrated feisty defense and some crisp passing on its way to a 12-point win over Rockwall Heath in the semifinals of the gold bracket on Friday. It was Midway’s second win of the day and fourth of the tournament, and gives the Pantherettes a shot to play for their 25th M.T. Rice title in the program’s long, illustrious history. Midway (19-4) will meet Kerrville Tivy in the girls’ championship at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Midway High arena.
“We were in this position last year and couldn’t finish the deal,” Midway coach Ben Holder said. “So let’s finish the deal.”
Against Heath, Midway senior point guard Ja’Naiya Davis logged plenty of action after sitting out the Pantherettes’ 45-24 quarterfinal win over Lorena earlier in the day, resting a nagging foot injury. Davis made her presence known against the Hawks. In addition to tying for team high point honors with 11, she kept her teammates involved with some slick looks.
That passing proved contagious, as many of Midway’s buckets came as the result of keeping the ball moving and rotating to an open shooter.
“We definitely have had our moments where we’ve had the turnover bug,” Holder said. “But we practice and preach good passing all the time — meet the pass, do the right things, look for the open teammate, share the ball. It just builds that common culture where we look for each other.”
Davis played beat-the-clock on two of her buckets, banking in a short jumper with 6.7 seconds left in the first quarter on a nicely-executed inbounds play. She also added a driving scoop to the hoop just before the halftime horn, giving the Pantherettes a 32-21 lead at the break.
Heath was heavily reliant on its top two scorers to carry the load. Morgan Talley and Macy Wilkerson combined for 33 of the team’s 42 points, and only four players scored for the Hawks overall.
Meanwhile, Holder kept the scorer’s table on its toes by rotating all 15 of his players in and out. “I think depth is very much in my favor,” the Midway coach said.
Midway extended its lead to 18 after three quarters, but Heath had one last push to make. The Hawks fought back to within 46-38 with four minutes to go when post Logyn McNeil converted a drive to the bucket. Then Midway’s Caleyah Burrell popped in a 3-pointer moments later to push the lead back to 11, thwarting the comeback attempt.
Michala Pullen-Monroe joined Davis in scoring 11 points, Burrell had nine and Reese Rhodes — described as a “jack-of-all-trades” by Holder — scored seven.
In Midway’s opening win of the day, the Pantherettes held Lorena to just 12 points in each half in a grind-it-out kind of game. Duncan scored nine points to lead another evenly-distributed scorebook for the Pantherettes. For Lorena, Michelle Runyan put in 11 points, including a sweet Euro step scoop to the basket in the fourth quarter.