Keller and Justin Northwest’s boys basketball teams each had late-game heroics to reach their respective state tournaments, which begin Thursday.
The state tournament is not where the two head coaches realistically thought they would be at this time of year. Regardless, the teams are each setting new heights for their programs’ history.
Keller (33-2) will take on San Antonio Wagner (35-2) in the state semifinals 8:30 p.m. on Friday, while Northwest (32-5) will be paired with Fort Bend Marshall 31-7) on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
Keller needed a late steal and score and Northwest had to come from behind to earn their spots in the UIL 6A and 5A basketball tournaments in San Antonio’s Alamodome.
In Keller’s Region I final with Arlington Bowie, Carson Hughes stole a pass and put in the winning basket with seconds remaining to pull out a 57-55 win.
The Indians had beaten Allen, 69-61, in the previous day’s regional semifinals.
“We were hoping we could get to the playoffs and win a game.”
- Northwest coach Mike Hatch, whose team is playing in the state semifinal
Northwest overcame a double-digit deficit to hang on down the stretch to beat El Paso Burges in their Region I final.
The Texans needed overtime to get past El Paso Andress 62-58 in the regional semifinals to advance.
Both coaches agreed that at the start of the season, they had respectable ball clubs but were not thinking of needing to plan a trip to San Antonio for March.
“We were hoping we could get to the playoffs and win a game,” admitted Northwest head coach Mike Hatch. “We hoped to get our young guys some big game experience. We knew we had some talented young guys but we were very inexperienced.”
Those young players surrounding Avery Anderson at Northwest proved to be quick learners and unafraid of the pressure.
“You just never know how tough mentally they are when they have no experience at this level,” said Hatch. “They have grown up a lot since November and they have come together as a group extremely well.”
Anderson said each game brought new challenges for he and his teammates and the underrated Texans kept proving themselves.
“Before the (regional ) games began, my nerves were jumping like I’ve never experienced,” Anderson said. “I like being the underdog because other teams don’t know what expect. We have a lot of different ways we can score which makes it easy on me,” the team’s leading scorer said. “But once the games start, I feel like we can compete with anybody.”
Northwest teammate Jordan Keys doesn’t feel the Texans are considered underdogs, either.
“I feel like we are at the top of our game and people are coming for us,” Keys said.
Keller also didn’t fully expect a state title run but have shown it’s worthy.
“We didn’t play well in the summer particularly,” said Keller head coach Randall Durant. “We had two returning starters in R.J. (Nembhard) and (Jared) Bowman. I knew with R.J. (a TCU commit) we would be competitive, but we had no thought we would be where we are now.”
Keller has shown that with its fast offensive starts and tenacious defense, they are one of the most worrisome of the final four teams.
“This is a scrappy bunch that has achieved what they have,” Durant added. “They’ve grown by leaps and bounds during this playoff run.
“We’re proud to represent Keller High School and the entire community at state,” Durant said.
“There’s no pressure (at the state tournament), just a chance to do something great,” he said.
The other semifinals have Dallas Skyline taking on Cypress Falls in 6A and Mansfield Timberview playing Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial in 5A.