By Jim Irish
Cedar Creek basketball coach Valentino Maxwell had a heart-stopping moment with less than a second on the clock of the Austin ISD championship contest on Saturday.
With the Eagles ahead by three points, Maxwell watched Kerrville Tivy’s Jackson Johnston swish two free throws. Johnston needed only to convert the third to tie it and send the game into overtime. But the ball hit the rim and bounced away.
With the miss, Cedar Creek captured its first-ever tournament title in school history 53-52. Earlier in the tournament, Cedar Creek had disposed of San Antonio Lanier, Katy Cinco Ranch, and Austin High.
“I’m so excited for these student-athletes,” Maxwell said. “They’ve worked so hard. They bought in completely in what we’re trying to do here at Cedar Creek. I couldn’t be happier as a coach.”
"I'm so excited for these student-athletes. They've worked so hard. They bought in completely in what we're trying to do here at Cedar Creek. ..."
-- Cedar Creek coach Valentino Maxwell
This was a tale of two halves. In the first half, it was all Cedar Creek. The Eagles scored 11 consecutive points to grab an 18-10 advantage after the first quarter. Robert Conrad took control with a 3-pointer and two driving layups through traffic during the run. Kade Masters scored on a tip-in, while Phineas Koplin hit a layup.
Conrad led the charge in the first half with 15 points
Conrad, a 5-foot-11 point guard, continued with the hot hand in the second, darting through the Tivy defense. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the half. The Eagles (7-0) expanded their lead to 34-21 by halftime.
“They hit some big shots at the right time,” Tivy coach Joseph Davis said.
Davis said his team “controls the tempo,” of games, but Cedar Creek established the tempo and the pace in the first half.
The Rattlers (4-1) were too disciplined to allow Cedar Creek to maintain its high level of play in the second half. They turned to a trapping defense that Cedar Creek struggled to solve.
With Cedar Creek stymied, Tivy went on an 11-0 run that was briefly interrupted by a Conrad driving layup. The Rattlers cut the margin to 41-35 at quarter’s end.
“Our guys are gonna fight,” Davis said. “That’s just what they do. We had to generate some type of defense, and we just tried to push and pressure a little bit more.”
Bryan Allen’s basket underneath handed the Eagles a 51-41 margin with 1:52 remaining and appeared to seal the deal. The Rattlers, however, had other ideas, scoring eight consecutive points as Cedar Creek failed to convert two 1-and-1s and a double free throw.
Tivy’s Jaden Fausto, a 5-7 point guard, nailed a long 3-pointer to close to 51-50 with 10 seconds on the clock.
Koplin sank two free throws to push Cedar Creek’s margin to 53-50 with nine seconds left.
Cedar Creek pulls it out in the end
Tivy had an opportunity to tie with a 3-pointer. Cedar Creek erred in pushing Johnston, a 6-7 senior, who was behind the 3-point line. He was dead-on for the first two but missed the third, sending Cedar Creek into a celebration.
“We made it a little harder at the end than it needed to be,” Maxwell said. “Every team has to go through (tough spells). I’m glad we’re going through it early, so we can be in that same situation later in the season. This is what tournaments are for. We’ll handle it better next time.”
Cedar Creek’s Kenji Franklin chipped in 13 points, while Koplin and Allen added eight and nine points, respectively.
Fausto led Tivy with 17 points. Johnston added 14 points and was 6-for-7 from the free throw line, missing the one that would have sent it into overtime.
Cedar Creek travels to Class 6A Akins (3-0) on Tuesday.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer living in Bastrop, Texas