The Port Arthur News
“Classic” is probably one of the most overused cliches in sports.
But Tuesday night before the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game in the Dogdome, Central’s thrilling 57-54 victory over the Bulldogs has to be labeled a “classic” in every sense.
Even the most casual basketball fan this morning is probably still talking about one of the most hard-fought, knockdown dragout battles during the entire 2013-14 season.
Both Central and Nederland entered Tuesday at 11-2 in district play. A victory would have enabled Nederland to earn the second seed from 20-4A.
Making their sixth straight playoff appearance under coach Brian English, the Bulldogs (22-7, 11-3) will play District 19-4A runnerup Humble Summer Creek in bidistrict probably next Tuesday at either Barbers Hill or Hardin-Jefferson.
Ozen demolished Lumberton Tuesday, 122-58, and both BISD teams finished district at 12-2, a game ahead of the Bulldogs.
On Wednesday, the No. 1 playoff seed from 20-4A will be determined by a play-in game, a coin toss or one team conceding the top seed between the Beaumont schools.
But on a near-freezing and rainy Tuesday night, this 32-minute battle-royal between two outstanding and evenly matched high school teams was a thing of beauty.
“This is why I love coaching,” said English. “It was a great basketball game in a tremendous atmosphere between two good teams. I liked the fight in our team the entire night and it wasn’t any one thing that kept us from winning.”
The dog-fight (no pun intended) was a battle between Central’s junior duo of 6-7 wing E’Torrian Wilridge and point guard Jacory Guillory and Nederland’s seniors Colton Weisbrod and Tyler Toon.
Wilridge, rated the top junior prospect in the entire Greater Houston area and with several major college coaches in attendance, led the way with 24 points, while teammate Guillory added 14.
Toon’s 12-point third quarter (sinking 4-of-4 three-pointers) was so important because Weisbrod went to the bench with four fouls with 3:07 left in third. He returned with 4:45 of the fourth and the Bulldogs trailed by only three (48-45).
“It’s really tough for us to play over six minutes with Colton (Weisbrod) on the bench against anybody like Central,” English said. “I was so proud of our kids for hanging in there with our leading scorer on the bench. It showed so much fight from our players and I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Trailing by one entering the final quarter (44-43), Weisbrod made back-to-back baskets on the inside against the taller Jaguars after returning to the court with four fouls and nearly half the period remaining.
Weisbrod’s second of two straight field goals tied it at 50-50 with 2:54 left as the Nederland crowd howled in delight.
Weisbrod also had a tremendous steal at midcourt and he took it hard to the basket to tie it at 52-52 with 1:02 left. Central took a 54-52 lead on Garrison Mitchell’s FG in close with just 0:54.8 left to play.
Probably the key possession came next as Weisbrod went hard inside but came up short against the Central front line, but got his own rebound and put it up again in heavy traffic and came up short. Wilridge then hit a pair of free throws and Nijal Pearson connected on 1-of-2 from the line with just 16 seconds left.
Rushing down court, Weisbrod missed an off-balance three, Nederland got the rebound and missed from 14 feet, then got its third straight rebound and Toon’s desperation shot in the final second came up short.
“They played me more physical this time around (he had 31 in the first round win over the Jags),” said Weisbrod. “I had to have a mindset to just keep pounding inside.”
Asked of his team’s emotional state, he said, “we’re down right now, but we’re going to be OK. It’s the playoffs now.”
Weisbrod was consistently hounded by three or four different Central players the entire night, but still managed 22 points on an 8-of-16 night from the field. He added 6-of-9 free throws.
Toon, who sent the Nederland faithful into a frenzy in the third period by canning 4-for-4 three-pointers to provide his club a 32-30 lead with 6:02 to play in the period. He also drilled a long trey to cut Central’s four-point margin to one (40-39) with less than two minutes of the quarter.
Against two of the state’s best, the Bulldogs lost to Ozen by one and four points, beat Central by four and lost Tuesday’s decision by three points.
Nederland fans shouldn’t be too worried. It’s hard to imagine Nederland playoff opponents being as good or better than the two outstanding Beaumont schools.