LAMPASAS — Lampasas’ long wait is finally over. After a dozen years of disappointment, the Badgers are back in the playoffs.
But it was not easy.
Lampasas needed overtime after blowing a four-point lead with 28 seconds left in regulation, and Gatesville had an opportunity to tie or win the game following a pair of missed free throws by the Badgers in the game’s final seconds but, in the end, Lampasas did just enough to pull out a 47-45 victory.
For senior Gary Spencer, who finished with 13 points, including seven of the Badgers’ 10 points in overtime, the victory was overwhelming, especially because it occurred on his home court.
“I don’t think I’ve come down yet,” he said. “It feels good. I love this community. I love it.”
The win almost did not happen, however, thanks to a foul with less than a second remaining in the fourth quarter that sent Gatesville point guard Justin Massey to the free-throw line. Trailing 37-36, Massey missed the first attempt, but made the second to send the game into overtime.
Then, Lampasas had an opportunity to clinch the game in overtime, but Jeremy Hughes, who made two free throws moments earlier, missed a pair of free throws, giving the Hornets one final opportunity with 5.54 seconds remaining.
“I could feel my arms shaking and my legs shaking,” Hughes said of his free throws that put Lampasas ahead 47-43 with 17.95 seconds remaining.
But the misses were disheartening.
“I was definitely upset after that second one came off the rim,” he said.
After going the length of the court, the game ended on a Gatesville turnover, though, setting off a raucous celebration.
For Lampasas head coach Rob Shivers, whose teams missed the postseason by one game in each of the previous two seasons, it was almost too good to be true.
“The big thing was for the curse of the Badger to be lifted,” he said. “I just assumed he was going to chunk it from halfcourt and it was going to go in.”
Instead, the Hornets ended up taking too long to create an opportunity before finally throwing the ball away.
After watching his players battle to keep their postseason hopes alive, Gatesville head coach Thomas Winkler admitted the ending was bitter.
“You would hope you could get a shot off, but that’s part of the game,” he said. “It is fast-paced chaos at times, and that is what it was, but it is a little heartbreaking to not at least have a shot at that point.”
The loss eliminates Gatesville (13-14, 2-7 District 8-3A) from playoff contention, while Lampasas still has an opportunity to improve its seeding with a victory against Llano on Tuesday. Should the Badgers defeat the Yellowjackets, the two would play again on Friday with the winner claiming the district’s third seed and avoiding District 7-3A champion Stephenville.
Despite helping Lampasas (11-17, 4-5) finally return to the postseason, Badgers senior Shonderius Howard, who finished with a team-high 15 points, is not satisfied.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “We’re not trying to fold and save it for the playoffs. We want to get the best position we can.”
Lampasas trailed 11-9 following the first quarter and 19-16 at halftime before face a six-point deficit, 30-24, into the fourth quarter, but the Hornets went cold in the final period, missing all five of their field-goal attempts.
Nevertheless, Gatesville made enough shots from the free-throw line to force overtime, including Massey’s clutch shot with 0.48 seconds on the clock. The junior finished with 10 points, while teammate Seth Martin scored a game-high 22 points.
After falling behind 39-37 in overtime, Spencer, who added eight rebounds and three assists, made a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead, and Lampasas never relinquished it despite several scares, including the Hornets’ last-gasp effort.
“In the huddle, we looked at each other and I asked, ‘Hey, are you strong?’” Spencer recalled of his late-game conversation. “They said, ‘Yeah, we’re strong,’ and we all stuck it out. When I saw the ball slip out of their hands, I knew we were going to playoffs.”