Varsity basketball wins thriller at San Marcos to move on to Regional Semifinal

In what Wagner head coach Rodney Clark called a “brain fart,” his team allowed nine seconds to run off the clock after a Westlake inbounds pass with 11 seconds left in the game, before finally committing an off-ball foul to stop the clock.

Out of their own timeout, while leading 58-57, all five Westlake players made heads-up plays to avoid getting fouled, and head coach Robert Lucero said the credit lay with the experience of his players.

“It comes down to these guys — they’ve been through it so many times, so they were pretty smart in how they handled it,” Lucero said.

That play sent senior Brock Cunningham, who had shot 4-6 from the free-throw line till that point, to the charity stripe with a chance to ice the game.

But he missed both shots, giving Wagner one last glimpse of hope, which was dashed when junior Jalen Jackson’s three-quarters-court heave fell short of the basket, and Westlake escaped with a narrow 58-57 victory Tuesday night at San Marcos High School.

Just moments before, Jackson, who finished with a game-high 28 points, had brought the score to within one by hitting a banked three-point shot from the top of the arc.

“It hurts,” he said. “It was some of the same guys as last year, and it was really fun playing with them. I wanted to keep it going, but Westlake was the better team tonight. They made more plays, they made more free throws, and we didn’t capitalize.”

Clark said his team played well enough to win even without junior Kevin McCullar, but Jackson said the Thunderbirds missed what the injured 6-6 point guard would have had to offer.

“He would have helped on the defensive end and with rebounding, and he also would have given us a couple of more points,” Jackson said.

It was in the paint where Westlake, and especially junior Will Baker, dominated. The big man finished with just eight points in the first half, but adjusted in the second half to score 14 and play an integral role in Westlake’s offense.

Lucero pointed to the more aggressive wing play from seniors Keonte Kennedy and Matthew Mayer as what allowed easier entry passes into the post for Baker. But even so, he had to impose himself physically in order to win the battle down low.

“[Wagner] was really physical with me, and I was physical back,” Baker said. “The refs weren’t calling a whole lot down there. It’s just a big man’s game — we push each other around, and it’s just a part of it. You just have to keep on playing, and I got some post-ups, and it worked out well.”

Westlake knows exactly what it feels like to be on the other end of a game like this, having been there last year in the Regional Final against Wagner. This year’s revenge didn’t come easily, and the Chaps trailed on the scoreboard for large portions of the game.

At the start of the second half, Wagner doubled their four-point lead with two consecutive buckets off of sloppy Westlake passes. But the Chaps fought back immediately with an 8-0 run to tie the score at 28, and a 17-12 third quarter gave Westlake a one-point lead heading into the fourth.

“We got the ball moving — we got out in transition,” Kennedy said. “We got to the rim instead of settling [for jump shots], and they started talking a lot of trash, but we said nothing back.”

It seemed as though Westlake would run away with it midway through the fourth quarter when they gained a seven-point advantage, but a 9-2 Wagner run tied the game at 52 and set up the thrilling final minute-and-a-half of basketball.  

The Chaps have been pushed to the brink two games in a row by Judson and Wagner respectively, and might face another stiff challenge in South San Antonio. That game will be at 8 p.m. this Friday at the Blossom Athletic Center in San Antonio.