Four games remained in the regular season, and the Pilot Point Bearcats needed to get some breaks and win games to make it to the playoffs. Good fortune came their way, and the team won a play-in game for the fourth spot from District 9-3A.
The Bearcats stayed hot Tuesday night, extending their winning streak to six with a 61-54 win over Van Asltyne in a bi-district Region II playoff game Tuesday at Braswell High School. The Bearcats are now 19-13 as they take on Life Oak Cliff in the area round of the playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Flower Mound Marcus.
“I thought we played really good defense with the way our game plan was,” Pilot Point coach Jeff Price said. “They’ve got some really good players. We knew we weren’t going to stop them, we were just trying to slow them down.
“We knew we going to have to score probably 60-something to win. Sometimes, we’ve struggled with that [this season], but I thought our guys played well offensively.”
Pilot Point shot the ball at crucial points, and that “really helped us out,” Price said.
The team played with a lot of confidence Tuesday, and Price said teams have to peak at the right time, which is what the Bearcats are doing now.
“The [game] just fell our way tonight,” he said.
Price said he was proud of how his team has rebounded after the lumps they took early in district.
Bearcat Javin Bruce said it felt great to win the game, especially after people doubted the team, and he thinks the turnaround has set the stage for the rest of the playoffs.
“I think we’ll go very far,” he said.
The Bearcats jumped out to an early lead over the Panthers and had the advantage until Van Alstyne’s Samuel Tormos’ steal and layup gave his team a 9-8 lead with just under 3 minutes to play in the first quarter. Bruce, who led Pilot Point with 17 points, made a basket to give the lead right back to the Bearcats seconds later, 10-9.
After the Panthers took another short-lived lead, Pilot Point’s Mason Sheppard’s trey gave the Bearcats a 13-12 advantage. Pilot Point led 16-14 at the end of one quarter.
The Panthers struggled mightily with their shooting throughout the game – especially from behind the 3-point arc – and the Bearcats took advantage. Jacob Pitts’ trey put the Bearcats on top, 25-21, with 4:10 to play in the half and helped Pilot Point keep the momentum heading into halftime, as the Bearcats led 30- 24.
After Van Alstyne trimmed the Bearcats lead to 34-33 on a Tormos bucket in the third quarter, Sheppard nailed a 3-pointer to give Pilot Point a 37-33 lead with 4:07 left and allowed the Bearcats to once again hold the Panthers at bay. The game irreversibly turned to Pilot Point’s favor at this point, as the team built a 46-36 lead at the end of three quarters and had a 53-39 at one point in the fourth quarter.
Van Alstyne came as close as six points the rest of the way, in the late-going.
Pitts also scored in double figures for Pilot Point with 16. Sheppard and Javon Bruce scored 10 points apiece for the Bearcats.
Win over Ponder puts Bearcats in playoffs
The Bearcats had no room for error as they maneuvered to gain entry into the playoffs, but the Bearcats cleared all hurdles, including the last obstacle, which was a 48-40 victory over Ponder at Aubrey in a play-in game Feb. 15.
The Bearcats (18-13) would go on to beat Van Alstyne in the bi-district round Tuesday night and will play Live Oak Cliff in the area round of the playoffs.
“I’m so pumped for our kids,” Pilot Point coach Jeff Price said. “Where we were two and half weeks ago, we had to work our butts off. We had to win five games in a row to get in. Our kids took some blows early in district, and for them to come back and play like this at the end of the year, I’m just so excited for the kids to get another game.”
Pilot Point trailed 19-17 at halftime and its fortunes seemed to swing in its favor for good as the third quarter ended. With the game tied at 26, Jacob Pitts hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put his team on top 29-26 going into the fourth quarter. Javin Bruce, who scored a game-high 17 points and made some clutch baskets down the stretch, made a trey with 3:30 left that gave Pilot Point a 40-30 lead.
A 7-0 run brought the Lions (13-20) within three, 40-37, with 1:10 left, but Bruce made a layup and was fouled with 38 seconds left to make the game at least a two-possession contest again at 42-37. He missed the free throw, but Javon Bruce grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit a free throw to put Pilot Point up 43-37. The Bearcats never faced another threat the rest of the way.
“I had kind of a talk with [Javin] about being better with the basketball and making better decisions, and what a great night he had for us out there, so I was really happy about his game,” Price said.
Javin said the team just had to keep fighting the last few weeks of the season.
“We worked hard, and we fought our butts off for it and hard work pays off,” Javin said.
Mason Sheppard was the second-leading scorer for the Bearcats, contributing nine points. Jabari Anderson had eight points for the Bearcats.