AUSTIN – Chase Harris got a rude welcoming in his first state tournament game, but the freshman guard had the last laugh for Ponder.
Near the end of the first half, Harris took an elbow to the nose from Aransas Pass’ 7-foot, 250-pound center J.D. Gentry and heard a crack before noticing a trickle of blood that he did his best to quickly stop.
Following the halftime intermission, Harris scored 12 of his game-high 20 points to lead the Lions to a 51-47 win over Aransas Pass in the Class 2A state semifinal at the Frank Erwin Center.
“In the state semifinals, you’re playing off adrenaline and emotion,” said the freshman shooting guard, still sniffling in the postgame press conference. “There’s not much that can affect you.”
Ponder (31-7), the fourth-ranked team in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 2A poll, will face No. 2 Tatum (35-4) in the Class 2A final today at 1:30 p.m. Ponder is going for its fifth state championship. Tatum defeated Bushland 58-41 in the other semifinal.
Ponder head coach Jude Stanley wasn’t aware of Harris’ mishap until after the game when he noticed Harris’ nose looked a bit funny.
Stanley said he’s getting used to the big-time performances from Harris, who also had a game-high point total in the Lions’ Class 2A Region II win over Brock last weekend.
“He came through in the clutch again when we needed him the most,” Stanley said. “He’s got a pretty good headache. He’s not a freshman anymore. He’s definitely earned his keep. We’re excited to keep him around for another three years.”
Harris finished the game without a two-point bucket as he shot 5-for-7 from beyond the arc and went 5-for-8 from the foul line. His 3-pointer with 1:06 remaining broke a tie and gave Ponder (31-7) a lead it never relinquished.
While Harris was controlling the game from the outside, Ponder’s two 6-6 senior post players were getting the best of Gentry and controlling the offensive glass.
Clay Morgan finished the day with 15 points and 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, and three blocks. Josh Peterson had 13 points to go with five boards, four of which were offensive, and four blocks. Morgan needs 18 points in today’s final to reach 2,000 for his career.
Gentry, the Panthers’ towering center, finished the day with six points, 10 rebounds and five blocks while shooting just 3-for-12 from the field.
“We did our best to try to block him out,” Peterson said. “He’s a big guy, but we tried to stay in there and stay strong. We put up a good fight. We held our own.”
No. 10 Aransas Pass (33-8) trailed by three points before taking over possession on a jump-ball with 38.9 seconds left. The Panthers had time to either tie the game or go for a quick bucket and have a chance to send Ponder to the foul line, where it shot an uncharacteristic 57.1 percent for the game.
Instead, sophomore guard Colin Hale dribbled toward his bench as time waned and hoisted up a contested 3-pointer with six seconds left that hit the rim and was corralled by Harris.
Aransas Pass head coach Glen Hayes said after the game he was trying to call a timeout, but it wasn’t granted and as time ran down, Hale had no choice on his shot selection.
“The officials didn’t give him the timeout,” said Hale, a sophomore who scored a team-high 12 points. “I didn’t know he was trying to call it at the time. I just saw the clock running down, and I had to get something up. I’d rather put up a contested shot than no shot.”
As close as the game was in the end, Ponder was able to jump out to quick runs in the first two quarters, beginning both the first and second quarter on 7-0 runs before the Panthers clawed back.
“That’s kind of the nature of this team,” Hayes said. “If we come out as the hot team, we never lose. If we start out behind a little bit and then try to get things going, it’s tough. We usually win those, too, but it’s not as definite.”
In the end, the Lions used the early 14-point swing to hang on and ensure one more game this season against a Tatum team that runs a full-court, man-to-man pressure defense almost exclusively.
Tatum head coach Brett Carr, a longtime acquaintance of Stanley’s, said the teams are familiar with each other from playing over the summer, and he knows Ponder’s big men will pose a challenge.
“We’re going to attack them with 13 guys,” Carr said. “Their big guys are so dominant inside we’re going to have to do a great job of defending them and do a great job of keeping them off the boards.
“I fully expect it to be a war. …Don’t let them fool you, he has a really good team. I’m sure he [Stanley] told y’all [in the press conference] he has the worst team in the state, but they’re definitely not that.”
The Lions’ senior class was in eighth grade when Ponder won its third straight state championship in 2010 – Stanley’s first year leading the program.
“People think, ‘Oh, Ponder is here every year,’ but it’s been four years,” Stanley said. “These guys have never had the opportunity to step on that floor. It’s a brand new opportunity and a brand new group of kids.”
Stanley and his staff were sure to remind the team of that on the bus ride on Thursday, watching DVDs of the previous state championship victories when something caught their eye while watching the 2010 title game.
It was Peterson, front and center in the crowd, dressed up and cheering as loud as he could.
Now, he’s set to play his final high school game in front of a similar crowd.
“It’s pretty exciting to know that it is your last game, and if you come out with a [win] you just won a state championship with the guys you’ve been playing with since you were 12 years old,” Peterson said. “We’re going to have a lot of energy tomorrow, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a fun game.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
PONDER 51, ARANSAS PASS 47
PONDER (31-7) — Harris, Chase 5-7 5-8 20; Morgan, Clay 7-17 1-3 15; Peterson, Josh 6-9 1-1 13; Anderson, Brady 1-8 0-0 2; Sallez, Cameron 0-1 1-2 1; Ferguson, Dustin 0-0 0-0 0; McCarty, Logan 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-44 8-14 51.
ARANSAS PASS (33-8) — Hale, Colin 4-11 1-2 12; Galvan, Troy 4-9 2-2 11; Harris, Paul 3-6 0-0 8; Gentry, J.D. 3-12 0-0 6; Gonzalez, Victor 1-3 0-0 3; McElroy, Matt 1-3 1-1 3; Giageos, Greg 1-2 0-0 2; Hill, Kiki 1-5 0-0 2; Cribb, Brandon 0-3 0-0 0; Hayes, Baron 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 18-57 4-5 47.
3-point goals — Ponder 5-11 (Harris, Chase 5-7; Anderson, Brady 0-3; Sallez, Cameron 0-1), Aransas Pass 7-17 (Hale, Colin 3-7; Harris, Paul 2-4; Galvan, Troy 1-4; Gonzalez, Victor 1-1; Cribb, Brandon 0-1). Fouled out — Ponder-None, Aransas Pass-None. Rebounds — Ponder 32 (Morgan, Clay 11), Aransas Pass 37 (Gentry, J.D. 10). Assists — Ponder 14 (Anderson, Brady 8), Aransas Pass 10 (Harris, Paul 2; Galvan, Troy 2; Hale, Colin 2). Total fouls — Ponder 11, Aransas Pass 16. Technical fouls — Ponder-None, Aransas Pass-None. A — 6,127