STEPHENVILLE — In the third and final meeting of the season between District 9-2A co-champions Brock and Ponder, the Lions showed resilience while recovering from large deficits, as they had several times during their playoff run.
Just as they did in Friday’s 40-38 win over Red Oak Life in the Class 2A Region II semifinals, the Lions roared back Saturday — tying the game at 20 in the second quarter and at 24 in the third — but they never could capture the lead and their season ended with a 52-42 loss in the regional final at Wisdom Gym.
“This group of guys has been the comeback kids,” Ponder coach Jude Stanley said. “We’ve been down so many times this year. We were sitting there down 10-0 in the first quarter, and in the timeout I told them, ‘This is nothing new. It’s time to make our run. We took their best shot, now let’s go to work.’ Sure enough, we tied the ballgame up in the third quarter and it was anybody’s game from there.”
Tre Ewell, who scored 20 points in Brock’s 58-47 victory over Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill in the regional semifinals, provided clutch bucket after clutch bucket on the way to a game-high 24 points Saturday. Ewell was 4-for-4 from long range while going 10-for-12 from the free throw line.
Brock shot just under 54 percent from the floor while Ponder managed to shoot 41 percent. The Lions outrebounded the Eagles 26-19 and put up 13 more shots.
Clay Morgan, who hit half of Ponder’s buckets on the way to 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, tied the game at 24 to open the second half, but Tre Ewell’s younger brother Lance Ewell provided a transition dunk and a three-point play to give the Eagles a 31-26 lead.
Brock’s defense then forced a few turnovers that hampered Ponder’s momentum from the second quarter. With Morgan producing most of the Lions’ offense, Brock focused squarely on him down low.
“Clay has grown as a player throughout this year,” Stanley said. “He’s one of the top players in the state of Texas, and they were putting three and four guys on him. They made it difficult for him to get comfortable and get to the bucket.”
The Lions’ deficit hovered around six points throughout the third quarter, but Dylan Carrigan’s crossover move and pull-up jumper in the lane gave Brock a 38-30 advantage heading into the fourth.
The Lions got into foul trouble early in the fourth when Kade Copp picked up his third and fourth fouls a minute and a half into the period, and he fouled out with 3:03 remaining. Stanley said he saw his team show signs of slowing down in the fourth quarter after seeing the reverse happen the night before.
“Both teams are very familiar with each other,” Stanley said. “When you play an opponent three times, there aren’t a whole lot of things you can do differently because the familiarity is so strong. I think our tank just ran out of gas a little bit coming off a hard-fought game [Friday] night. I think in the second half we were running on fumes and they were playing on heart.”
Luke Hummel’s driving basket restored the Eagles’ double-digit lead at 42-32, and it looked as if the Lions’ engine finally had run out of steam. However, the Lions weren’t going to let their rivals make it to Austin that easily, and they clawed back to within 43-39 on another Morgan bucket with just over 80 seconds remaining.
“We made a nice run in the fourth quarter to cut it down to a two-possession game at four points, and you have to start taking chances at that point,” Stanley said. “We were trying to steal; unfortunately, Brock was able to knock down their free throws and we weren’t able to score when we got the ball back.”
After holding Chapel Hill to just over 31 percent shooting, the Eagles stifled the Ponder offense for a large portion of the first quarter. Tre Ewell started the game with two 3-pointers to give Brock a 6-0 lead.
Morgan finally was able to get off the Lions’ first shot attempt more than 4 1/2 minutes into the game. Copp drove through three Brock defenders to put the Lions on the board, down 10-2, with 2:48 left in the first. Morgan scored to make it 12-4.
Copp opened the second quarter with a bucket, but Tre Ewell followed with a trey from the left wing. The Lions then went on a 14-5 run, and Copp’s driving hook shot tied the game at 20 with 1:42 left in the half.
Lance Ewell’s putback of a missed free throw gave the Eagles a 24-20 lead with 42 seconds on the clock. Morgan tipped in a missed shot by Brady Anderson at the buzzer to send Ponder into halftime down 24-22.
Ponder will lose seven seniors to graduation, and Stanley said he is especially close with the group.
“This senior class, when I came back to Ponder, were freshmen, so this is the first class of kids I’ve been in contact with all the way through,” Stanley said. “This is a super group of young men. They are going to have some great leaders for our world, and I am a better man for having coached them.”
Despite the Lions’ 30-10 season coming to an end one victory short of the state tournament and three wins shy of the 2A championship, Stanley and the Lions will have the same expectations next season.
“I told the guys in the locker room that one poll had us picked third in our district in the preseason and they blew the roof off of that,” Stanley said. “We solidified ourselves as one of the top teams in the state this year. We will have three kids back off this team in Clay Morgan, Josh Peterson and Brady Anderson, and we have a 25-2 JV team right behind them, so next year we will have the same type of goals we had this year.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock 52, Ponder 42
Ponder 4 18 8 12 — 42
Brock 12 12 14 14 — 52
Brock (31-6) — Tre Ewell 24, Lance Ewell 9, Lane Southern 6, Matt Brawner 4, Luke Hummel 4, Dylan Carrigan 2, Micah Thornton 2, Bailey Cockburn 1.
Ponder (30-10) — Clay Morgan 20, Kade Copp 9, Micah Broadstreet 5, Grant Boxell 4, Brady Anderson 3, Reid Sanders 2.