ALEDO, Texas — At this point of the high school basketball season, there are no bad teams and every one of them is capable of pulling an upset regardless of where they fall in the state's rankings.
The Jaguars ensured the unexpected didn't happen and used a 23-point second quarter surge and some daring dirty work by senior Michael Holland to edge Graham High School 60-55 Friday at Aledo High School Gymnasium.
Luckily for the Jaguars, the area round championship win — their second consecutive — was against a familiar opponent.
"They reminded me of Witchita Falls Rider (High School), a team we lost to earlier in the season," said Andy Slye, the head boys' basketball at Midlothian Heritage High School. "They had a big 6-foot-5 kid that could shoot the ball from the outside and pieces around him. Graham had the same thing. They were different from a lot of the teams we played this season but not that one. We faced one of the best players we faced all season. They were a well-balanced basketball team that went to work and had some secondary guys step up and play big. [Jaxon Brockway] scored 19 or 20 points but we showed toughness — which we continue to do."
The No. 26 Jaguar-Raider matchup went blow-for-blow and ended in a 56-51 overtime finish that snapped a three-game win streak of District 8-4A's eventual champion. The loss was despite six or more points each from leading scorer senior Isaac Rangel and fellow seniors Holland, Seth Golden, Jackson McLaughlin, Jaren Shead and Steven Wallace.
Against Graham and 6-foot-5 senior shooting guard Steven Kimberling, though, the gods of victory smiled on Midlothian. Despite trailing 12-11 at the end of the first quarter, the Jaguars, at the behest of their bearded sideline general and behind the fury of a 23-16 run, took a 10-point lead at halftime.
"We needed to relax and play like we played all year, "Slye said. "we came out and won the first quarter 11–8, but we were playing at a different pace. When we decided to relax, we scored 23 points in the second and went on a 12–2 run in the three minutes sparked by none other than Michael Holland."
Slye credited both Holland and Wallace's inside presence for scoring points when they're usually deadly perimeter game — a key component to how they force defenses to overextend — was unusually inaccurate. The Jaguars shot nine percent from behind the 3-point line.
Their rebounding and second-chance points, though, made all the difference. The Jaguars outscored them 21-3 in second-chance points and outrebounded Graham with the help of rebounds from Holland and Wallace.
Holland notched a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds and added a team-high five steals. Wallace scored 12 points pulled down nine rebounds and had two blocked shots.
"Coach Slye reminded us that Graham is a resilient team and they would continue to fight until the final buzzer," said Holland, one of the players on the team averaging a double-double. "This is what helped us keep our foot on the gas, and helped us to finish the game. "Graham was one of the toughest teams we've faced so far but I think close games with Life Waxahachie during district prepared us to stay composed in crucial situations."
While Kimberling scored nine of his 13 total points in the first half, Midlothian Heritage's leading scorers Holland, Wallace and Golden (11 pts) accounted for 18 of the Jaguars' 34.
And despite a 15-point rally by Graham and its Steers in the third quarter, Golden said, the game was Midlothian Heritage's to lose.
"We controlled most of the game. Basketball is a game of runs and, like many of my coaches have said, it's the way you respond to the other team's run that defines how games can end," Golden said. "Graham had a very solid basketball team offensively and can shoot the ball well from outside, but our team dug deep and rebounded the ball well in the fourth quarter and closed out their better shooters. We just focused on our game plan and played the way Midlothian Heritage plays to get back on track. We pushed both offense and defense, but it became more based on the defense — the thing we rely on to win us games."
The Jaguars will face Kennedale High School in the regional quarterfinal round of the UIL 4A playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mansfield Lake Ridge High School. The Wildcats knocked Head Coach Lee Wigington and Midlothian Heritage out of the regional round of the 4A football playoffs on Nov. 25.
Slye, who watched his team beat the District 7-4A undefeated No. 1 seed 71-43 in its only meeting of the season, said he is aware of the history between the two schools and the talent that lies 19 miles northeast of Midlothian.
"We are going to establish a presence inside so we can get those opportunities to score [from the perimeter] with guys like Isaac, Jackson Seth, Collin (Valenta) and our other shooters. I have 100 percent confidence those guys can knock down shots," Slye said. "It's good to know you can win against a team like Kennedale, but we're not putting too much stock in beating them earlier this season. They're a very different team than when we faced them [on Dec. 10], on a 14 or 15 game win streak right now and went undefeated in district. We wiped the slate clean because we know they're different now. It's a completely new preparation for us."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.