GIDDINGS — As one of Texas’ highest ranked teams, the No. 17 Salado Eagles have been taking the best shots of many of their opponents during the district and nondistrict portions of the season.
And senior guard Kase Spears wasn’t going to let Hempstead’s best shot let it from grounding him and the Eagles during the Region III-2A area playoffs.
Even if it means having some broken ribs to show for it.
Salado used an inspirational performance from their captain to cruise past Hempstead 80-65 on Friday.
“I’d have to break my leg to stay out of that game,” Spears said. “I wanted to stay in there and win that one.”
The win gives the Eagles (30-3) a berth in the regional quarterfinals next week against Marlin.
Case sustained the injury early in the second half but played as much as he could. He said he heard a pop during the game and the pain was excruciating.
When he wasn’t in the game, he cheered the team on from the bench.
“He’s always been a warrior, he’s a team captain and that’s why,” Salado head coach Kenny Mann said. “The guts that he showed tonight, I can’t say enough about it.”
Kole Hearne led all scorers with 21 points while Dane Hankamer added 17. Kyle Heiner (16) Tyler Ramthun (12) and Preston Rosebrock (10) also scored in double figures.
The first half was one of runs as Salado established itself early with a 13-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game before Hempstead answered.
Salado led by as many as 11 in the second quarter while Hempstead (20-12) cut the Eagle lead to seven points at one point.
But closing out the first half proved to be a big key in the end.
“That really sent us in with some confidence going into the half,” Hearne said. “When we came back, we wanted to play with the same intensity.”
After Hempstead post Fred Tompkins cut Salado’s lead to 35-27 with 1:10 left, the Eagles offense came alive.
Rosebrock hit a jumper from the left side of the court with a minute left and Heiner followed with a 3-pointer off a Hempstead turnover at the 35-second mark. Heiner capped the first-half scoring with a pair of free throws that sent the Eagles into the locker room with a 15-point halftime advantage.
“It definitely gives us a confidence booster knowing that we could come in and play against a good team like Hempstead,” Spears said. “We know that on nights they can come in and hit 3s, but they weren’t hitting 3s tonight.”
Tompkins gave the Bobcats consistent offense and scored 13-points in the first half before Mann put the Eagles in a 1-3-1 zone in the second half.
That move was all Salado needed to end the Hempstead threat as Tompkins scored only two points in the third quarter.
Ramthun opened the second half scoring with a 3-pointer in the first 40 seconds as Salado built a 64-43 lead going into the fourth quarter.
From there, the outcome of the game was never really in doubt. Hempstead didn’t get to within 12 points the rest of the game.
“Our guys battled hard,” Mann said. “It seems like every time they came up with a good basket, we answered with a big basket. They never got a chance to turn the momentum into their favor because we kept answering every time they tried.”
Spears emerged from the locker room after the game with an ice pack under his red Salado playoff shirt held together by shrink-wrap over the garment.
Although the linescore shows a first quarter field goal, a third quarter field goal and two missed free throw attempts, Heiner and the rest of the Eagles know his contribution was way more than that and will be again for the rest of their playoff run.
“I saw him come back in and it really inspired me to play even harder because he gave us all he had with an injury like that,” Hearne said.
Contact Albert Alvarado at firstname.lastname@example.org