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Conrad catches fire, leads Cedar Creek to first-ever state playoff victory over McCallum

Updated: Feb 24

Cedar Creek players and coaches celebrate the school's first-ever basketball playoff victory

By Jim Irish

Photos by Jim Irish

Robert Conrad had practiced too hard and spent untold hours honing his game during his four varsity seasons to allow his first state basketball playoff opportunity to slip through his fingers. 

After failing to score in the first half, Conrad, Cedar Creek’s smooth 5-foot-10 point guard, roared to life, scoring a game-high 20 points in a bi-district victory over McCallum 47-34 at the Weiss gym on Tuesday.

"We came out and won today because of our excitement and hard work.'

-- Cedar Creek's Robert Conrad, who scored a game-high 20 points

The Eagles (25-10) earned their first playoff victory in the school’s 12-year varsity history. In 2020, they reached the playoffs with Alfred Collins, currently a member of the University of Texas football team, but lost in the first round.

Cedar Creek's Robert Conrad took matters into his own hands with 20 points in the second half

Conrad, a San Antonio Trinity University signee, missed all but one district game the previous season with a dislocated elbow, making this victory even sweeter.

”We came out and won today because of our excitement and hard work,” Conrad said. “Cedar Creek has never done this before.”

A beaming Cedar Creek coach Valentino Maxwell held the trophy after the game.

”We made history,” Maxwell said. “We expected history. They believed the whole time.”

Conrad drilled a 3-pointer to open the fourth-quarter scoring. Phineas Koplin, a left-handed junior who recently returned to the team, then banked in a layup on Cedar

Cedar Creek’s next possession.

"We made history. We expected history. They believed the whole time.'

-- Cedar Creek coach Valentino Maxwell

Just like that, Cedar Creek led 36-28, and the loud McCallum crowd fell silent.

Conrad proceeded to nail 8-of-10 free throws (10-of-12 overall) in the fourth as McCallum (24-9) was forced to foul.

With Conrad gaining confidence by the minute, Cedar Creek pounded the Knights 16-5 in the fourth. McCallum made only one basket in the quarter.

”The strategy was to limit (Conrad) and (Franklin),” McCallum coach Daniel Fuentes said. “You can only do that for so much. You’re gonna have some breaks in the defense.”

“We had good looks (but) couldn’t finish in the paint,” he added. “That kinda hurt us.”

Cedar Creek coach Valentino Maxwell holds the trophy aloft after the bi-district victory at Weiss

McCallum made history of its own this season with an unblemished 14-0 record in district. 

With Conrad struggling in the first half, Kenji Franklin, a 6-5 junior, stepped up, scoring all nine of the team’s points in the first quarter, mostly on offensive putbacks and drives. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half.

”I was just shaky, trying to get my feet under me, feeling out the game,” Conrad said about the first half. (The playoff game) was a new environment. Sometimes you can get too excited, and your shots can go off. KJ picked up my slack in the first, and I was able to help in the second.”

Maxwell had no doubts about Conrad finding his rhythm in the second half.

”We were not worried about it one bit,” he said. “Rob’s the ultimate hard worker. We knew he was gonna take us home in the second half.”

Cedar Creek will face Killeen Shoemaker, a 75-70 winner over A&M Consolidated, in the area round at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Taylor High School.

Jim Irish is a freelance writer in Bastrop, Texas

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