SALADO — Kenny Mann has never doubted his team’s capabilities.
It’s the execution that has been suspect at times. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
Showing grit and aggressiveness in attacking the lane, Salado senior guards Dane Hankamer and Brandon Womac scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, as the No. 25 Eagles knocked off No. 3 Jarrell 57-48 on Saturday to secure sole possession of first place in District 22-2A.
“It’s huge. I’ve told my guys and I really believe this: I believe we could beat any 2A team in the state, but we could also lose to any 2A team in the state,” Mann said.
“When we’re playing well, and my playmakers are playing like they can play, I believe we’re as good as anybody. It just comes down to us always playing that way.”
Womac was the spark, scoring 13 of his points during an extended run that saw an 8-5 deficit with 4 ½ minutes left in the first quarter balloon into a 29-15 advantage with 2 ½ remaining before halftime, with Womac scoring the final eight points of that spurt.
“It was two top-25 ranked teams in the state and we knew we were better than them,” said Womac, who also added six rebounds and five steals. “We just went out there and played our game and got the job done.”
Added Mann: “From Day 1, I’ve said Brandon was our guy, but it’s taken him awhile to finally accept that role. ... Tonight it was obvious he’s finally taken on that role. Not only as our best player and playmaker, he’s become the level-headed guy on the floor too.”
Jarrell (19-3, 2-1 22-2A) was without 6-foot-7 big man Morgan Cooper, who’s signed to play baseball at Texas after earning 2A pitcher of the year honors last year.
The Eagles (15-6, 3-0) were determined to not allow the Cougars’ inside presence to get the best of them. And playing a zone seemed to work in Salado’s favor as Jarrell missed its first 11 attempts from behind the 3-point line.
“Our goal was to make them earn it at the 3-point line, and they didn’t do it,” Mann said. “At the end they hit like three in a row, and I was glad they didn’t decide to do that earlier.”
Trailing early, Salado jumped on the Cougars and made its opportunities count, outscoring Jarrell 12-3 over the final 4:05 of the first quarter and scoring the first seven points of the second quarter for a 24-11 advantage with 5:10 left in the second.
“It was a big game and we came out and trusted our shots, we knew we could knock down shots and we just did it at key times in the game,” Womac said.
Salado’s 31-20 double-digit lead at halftime was crucial, especially given its 1-of-11 shooting from the floor in a two-point third quarter that saw Jarrell pull within 33-29 entering the final period.
But, after Brown nailed the Cougars’ first 3-pointer 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, Hankamer took over, scoring the next nine points himself for a 42-32 lead with 5:12 left. With the lead intact, Womac and senior post Austin Adams took advantage with Womac forcing Jarrell into turning the ball over on five of its next seven possessions and Adams scoring seven of his 13 points on the other end to seal the victory, and sole possession of first place in district.
“We can’t go out there and think we’re more talented than the other teams,” Womac said. “We’ve got to go out there and try harder, be more aggressive, out-play and out-hustle the other teams.”