HARKER HEIGHTS — As Cameron Delaney’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer rimmed out, forcing overtime, Renard Thomas took a deep breath, reached up and gently patted post Kerry Walker on the back of the head.
Despite watching host Harker Heights rally from a 17-point first-half deficit to tie it up 44-44 at the end of regulation, the diminutive Shoemaker senior knew his Grey Wolves had one more round left in them.
“I just told them, ‘The game’s not over, we’ve just got to keep playing,’” Thomas said. “If we played hard like we did in the first quarter, we’ll win the game, and that’s what we did.”
After a paltry 1 of 7 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, the Grey Wolves settled down and nailed 5 of 7 free throws in the four-minute extra period and knocked off the newly-ascended first-place Knights with a 52-47 overtime victory Friday at Harker Heights.
“It feels good to win that game and be in the position we’re at, now we’re coming for Ellison,” said senior post Shane Johnson, who was 3-of-4 from the line in the extra period.
The win came three days after the Knights pulled a road victory of their own with a 53-46 win at Ellison, which is once again all alone atop the District 8-5A standings — one game up on second-place Shoemaker (22-7, 7-2 8-5A) and Heights (18-8, 7-2) — following a 74-35 blowout of Temple on Friday.
“I guess Ellison didn’t have that company for long,” Grey Wolves head coach Marc Minatrea said.
But Shoemaker, which reached the playoffs last season for the first time in three years, is not settling for just making in it — the Grey Wolves want to win district.
“In the locker room, we talk about the playoffs, and we knew after we beat Killeen we had a good chance to get in,” Minatrea said, “but we don’t want to play DeSoto or South Grand Prairie, so I explained to them we need to get as high a seed as we can.”
That No. 1 seed is now only five games away, and the way the Grey Wolves played the first half, doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. Playing an in-your-face pressure defense against a Knights squad missing starting point guard Josh Delaney — who was out with an injured thumb — Shoemaker mounted a 10-1 lead on a Thomas floater with 2:00 to play in the first quarter thanks to six Heights turnovers.
“It was just some bad turnovers, making a change with your point guard is like trying to change your quarterback,” Knights coach Celneque Bobbitt said. “But I’m not going to take anything away from them ... Shoemaker came out and played ball.”
The Grey Wolves continued to put on the pressure thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from reserve guard Pat Mark to open up a 20-6 advantage 1:03 into the second quarter. By halftime, Shoemaker held a commanding 31-17 lead.
But then the Knights charged back. Working their way to the basket, sophomore post Celneque Bobbitt II contributed eight points in the third quarter and Cameron Delaney slashed his way to nine fourth-quarter points to pull within 42-40 with 3:26 left in regulation.
“It seemed like the pendulum swung in the second half and we got to the basket and made some good some shots and clawed all the way back to tie it up,” Bobbitt said.
But after a baseline layup from Bobbitt II gave Heights its first lead of the game, 44-42, with 1:02 left, Walker cut through the lane for a quick layup after missing a pair of free throws a minute prior to tie it back up at 44-44 with 48 seconds remaining.
“It’s just a resilient group — they play well together, hard together,” Minatrea said.
Once in overtime, the Grey Wolves came out firing as Thomas nailed a 3-pointer with 2:34 left to pull back on top 47-46 and then Johnson sealed it at the line.
“I knew I’ve been off on free throws for a couple of weeks, and I tried to focus so hard on the free throws,” Johnson said, “so I just took a deep breath, shot ’em and luckily they fell.”