SAN ANTONIO — Brazosport barely escaped an epic collapse after relinquishing a 25-point halftime lead during the 73-64 Saturday 4A semifinal win against UIL State Tournament newcomer Midlothian Heritage High School at the Alamodome.
Patience, however, was the key to pulling within single digits, nearly erasing the biggest deficit the Jaguars faced all season and becoming the first Midlothian team in city history to reach the state title game.
It took two quarters of basketball for the usually sweet-shooting Jaguars to find their stroke, though.
Their deadly long-range offense nearly withered under the weight of Brazosport's game-long, full-court defensive press and relentless inside game. The Jaguars shot 25 and 15 percent in the first and second quarters and committed 10 turnovers — easily their collective worst half of the season.
They also allowed 32 points in the paint in the first 16 minutes. Sixteen of those points were second-chance points via the Exporters 12 first-half offensive rebounds.
Midlothian Heritage, though, caught their stride and upped the ante against Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' No. 3 Brazosport, scoring 27 points in the third quarter and causing the Exporters to turn in their two most inefficient quarters of the game.
Brazosport shot 25 percent from the field in the third quarter and 45 percent in the fourth and shot 3-for-16 (19 percent) from three in the second half.
The Jaguars' stride began specifically with two of leading scorer Jackson McLaughlin's 24 points, which came with less than a minute into the third quarter. With the help of forced turnovers and jailbreak layups from McLaughlin, Seth Golden and Steven Wallace, the Jaguars slowly edged back into the game.
The last 3:30, however, was far more important than the first four and a half. Sparked by Jaren Shead's 3-pointer and eight points from McLaughlin, Midlothian Heritage closed the third quarter on a 17-5 run and dwindled the once 20-plus point deficit to only 13.
A steal-and-score by Fields and a Holland rebound-turned-fast break McLaughlin layup with 6:26 in the fourth quarter brought the Jaguars within nine points and down only 63-52.
With the help of Kerrion Fields' (10 pts, 5 stls) and Michael Holland (6pts, 7 rebs, 4 stls) caused 14 of the Exporters' 19 turnovers in the final 16 minutes — nearly forcing the undefeated District 26-4A No. 1 seed to fall under the stampede of thundering Jaguar rally.
Though Midlothian Heritage outscored Brazosport 45-29 in the second half, its potentially historic rally remained out of reach with the nine-point deficit too large to overcome and time bleeding off the clock — and the Jaguars season.
Had Midlothian Heritage secured a win against Brazosport, it would have also been the second Ellis County basketball team — Waxahachie won the girls' 4A title in 2006 — to reach the title game this century. The program is in its second varsity year.
Wallace, the third Jaguar player in double figures, scored 14 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked two shots in his senior season finale. Chris Rossow, Brazosport's leader, finished with 17 points and its boy-in-the-middle Hunter Quick scored 12 and hauled in a game-high 18 rebounds.
The (32-5, 12-1) Jaguars entered the game winners of their last 10 games and had only lost once in the last 17. Either directly or indirectly, they had beaten five of the TABC's top 20 teams.
While the Jaguars beat No. 20 Lubbock Estacado, No. 18. Burkburnett, No. 17 Life Waxahachie and No. 9 Seminole High Schools, the Life Waxahachie Mustangs, their District 8-4A rival, took care of a couple more.
Arguably the biggest win of Midlothian Heritage's season, against TABC No. 9 ranked Seminole High School, came via a last-second buzzer beater.
The Jaguars had trailed a team going into halftime only a handful of times. Only Lubbock Estacado High School accomplished that feat in the last two weeks.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.