WACO — Brandon Womac was less nervous about shutting down Marlin’s red-hot scorer in the second half than making his open
layup at the end of the game.
Ladarian Hopwood hit four 3-pointers and scored 23 points in the first half and nearly put Womac and the No. 16 Salado Eagles into a hole they couldn’t claw out of out.
Womac held Hopwood to just seven points in the second half, softly laid up his shot against the backboard with 30 seconds left and Salado dodged an upset by rallying to beat Marlin 59-56 in a Region III-2A area-round playoff game Friday at Midway High School.
“Nothing was really falling for me in the game ... I couldn’t believe I was so open,” Womac said of his bucket that gave Salado a five-point cushion. “I just took so much time focusing on that shot, that was probably the most embarrassing thing. But I just laid it in like any other layup in pracitice.”
Dane Hankamer scored the go-ahead layup with 1:34 left, Salado’s only lead of the game, followed by two free throws from Kase Spears and Womac’s layup to send the Eagles to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2005, when they reached the 2A state semifinals.
Salado (27-8) plays either McGregor or Trinity next week at a site and time to be determined.
“They’re used to winning and they’ve got that mentality — they don’t really know how to lose,” said Salado head coach Kenny Mann. “They’re never in a situation where they feel they’re going to lose. We got a little frustrated at the first a little bit, but, even in our timeouts, I could tell that the guys knew if we could find a way to keep No. 4 (Hopwood) from going off on us that we’d be all right.”
Salado switched from its zone defense to its man-to-man defense in the second half and Womac limited Hopson to just 2-of-7 shooting from the floor in the second half, including a half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave the game its final score.
“When Coach Mann told me I had the task, I was up for it,” Womac said. “I went out there and I knew I could guard him, and I just tried to shut him down as best I could.”
Marlin (20-9) took a 47-35 lead with 2:51 left in the third following a technical foul against Mann. With their coach essentially benched, unable to pace the hardcourt in front of the Salado bench, the Eagles rallied.
Hankamer converted a three-point play with 2:42 left in the third that ignited an 11-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to pull the Eagles to within two, 49-47, on Kyle Heiner’s layup with 6:29 to go in the fourth.
“It’s funny how that happens sometimes,” Mann said of his team’s rally after his technical. “One technical (and) and the guys get that feeling the world’s against us, so they pick up their game an extra notch. I wasn’t trying to get the technical, I just took my tie off.”
Mangle Womack’s layup, assisted by Hopwood, gave the Bulldogs a four-point lead with 5:47 left, but Marlin hit just 1 of 7 from the floor, 2 of 5 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over five times the rest of the game.
“We knew the season was on the line and we did it for all of us — the seniors, everyone,” Hankamer said. “We couldn’t lose.”
Hopwood finished with 30 points to lead all scorers and Womack finished with 14 for Marlin.
Hankamer led Salado with 18 points, Spears added 16 and Austin Adams scored 12.
(Hopwood) was just lighting us up. ... We just couldn’t stop (Hopwood) from scoring that way,” Mann said. “I knew if we put Brandon on him and just didn’t let him get the ball, we could get them frustrated. My guys just did an amazing job. I’ve never been so proud in my life.”