SAN ANTONIO — The #4 Waelder Wildcats are back in the Region IV-1A tournament after knocking off McMullen County 66-52 in San Antonio on Tuesday. The 14-point victory was aided by a dominating defensive performance in the third quarter, where the Wildcats outscored the Cowboys 26-13 to go up 53-37. The game was close in the first half, with Waelder up 11-10 at the end of the first and 27-24 by halftime. But the team’s adjustments, specifically when it came to playing defense, is what propelled the team to the next round.
“They adjusted to a 1-3-1 and that really helped us in terms of our offense, but I think it was the mentality of ‘stop chasing’ on defense and just the motor to keep wanting to go with these guys,” Waelder head coach David Graves said. “We’re missing a senior right now and I just can’t tell you how seductive their minds have been to want to get better and the ‘want-to-do’ for each other and for Waelder.”
Down a player, the Wildcats found themselves in early foul trouble. By the end of the first quarter, 12 total fouls were called on both teams.
“That started with my staff and me, to juggle,” Graves said of the defensive adjustments. “We had Colby [Thorne] in the first half, didn’t come back because he had two [fouls], but the guys did a really discipline job of ‘arm’s length.’ We taught arm’s length a lot this week because we knew the environment that we were going to get in with those guys. They’re really aggressive drivers, they’re really long and they backdoor a lot. It’s a great adjustment again by [the Wildcat defenders], the want and the will to just be coachable. If you got five seniors that want to be coachable and that turns into a whole underclassmen group, then you can surpass anything. But it was just the understanding that our depth wasn’t there. We’re missing our point guard, praying for his father, but that’s who we’re missing, and they took accountability of that and understood that we’re going to have to go to our bench. Our sophomores and our freshmen do a great job because they’re being pushed by these guys. So I think the adjustment was them understanding ‘I can still guard at a high level and in a discipline.’”
In the third quarter, the Wildcats almost doubled their total, scoring 26 points after scoring 27 in the first half. Colby Thorne led the scoring in that period with 10 points. He ended the night with 16 points. Fellow senior Wildcat Isaiah Jones-Miller also finished with 16 points. After the game Jones-Miller declared that it was “defense” that got the team back to the regional tournament.
“I’m coming back stronger,” he said after the game. “I’m ready. It’s going to be different. I’m playing two-times harder than what I did last year.”
Last season, the Wildcats were eliminated from the playoffs in this same position by their rivals, the Moulton Bobkats. Getting back to the Region IV-1A tournament was an important goal for the senior class.
“It feels good to be back,” Orlando Ford said. “Last season was a little off, but this season we stepped up big to show the city what we can do and what we can prove.”
“It feels good to be back,” Thorne added. “I missed my brothers last year. I had to cut the season short, but this year it’s a whole different story. We’ve got one goal to prove.”
“Last year we came up short against Moulton,” Jacovan Fields said. “Just feels good to be back.”
Fields ended the night with 13 points, Ford came away with 10 points while freshman Marco Jaimes added six and freshman Alex Ford had five points.
The Wildcats face the tough task of taking on a LaPoyner Flyers that’s currently ranked number one by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. But Waelder has played the underdog role, a role Graves believes his team thrives under. When asked about playing the number one team in the state, Graves responded by saying “the top team in the state wore blue all year.”
“Nobody respected that,” he continued. “We don’t have any comment to that. Anybody that wants to come watch, come Friday night in Austin, we’ve been the underdog all year, we’re happy with it, they didn’t talk about us now and to us the best team in the state wore blue. At the end of the day, our defense is what fuels us, and that’s the level that we want to play at. We know about [LaPoyner], we’re just ready to step on the floor with them.”
Friday’s game between the Wildcats and Flyers will take place at Burger Gym in Austin, with tipoff set for 6 p.m. The winner plays the winner between #12 Laneville and #11 Leggett on Saturday at Burger Gym at 12 p.m. noon.