In the fourth quarter of its season opener on Friday, after Shoemaker had seen its 20-point lead whittled down to two by resilient Waco, first-year Shoemaker head coach Emund Prichett asked his team to remember this past spring.
“I just told them, ‘Hey we put in a lot of work since the end of the season last year,’” Pritchett said. “Are you going to believe in that work and come to play? Come to play the way we’re supposed to play—Shoemaker basketball.’”
The Grey Wolves answered that challenge Friday, persevering to pull out a 69-59 win at General Shoemaker Gymnasium that was closer than the final score.
Shoemaker outscored the Lions (0-1) 17-9 in the final 3:57 of the game to the delight of its new coach.
“They responded well,” Prichett said, “I knew they would.”
The Grey Wolves began the game on a 10-0 run and led 28-8 with four minutes left in the first yet found themselves clinging to a 52-50 lead with just less than four minutes remaining in the game.
But Waco was never able to pull even, as Shoemaker senior point guard Patrick Mark came up big down the stretch, keying a 4-0 spurt with two free throws and a thunderous alley oop to Torenzo Saunders that caused the gym to erupt and give the Grey Wolves late momentum.
“I figured they had been helping, trying to reach for the ball,” Mark said of his momentum-changing assist, “and then I saw they helped, and I just threw it up to Torenzo and he dunked it.”
Mark tied teammate Shane Johnson with a team-high 16 points to help overcome a game-high 21 points from Waco guard Justin McCreary.
Despite going scoreless for the first 4:54 of the game and falling behind 20 in the second, Waco managed to trip the Shoemaker lead to 35-23 at the half — this despite shooting 8 for 28 from the field and allowing seven offensive rebounds to Shoemaker.
“We were just playing hard and playing good defense,” Mark said of the Grey Wolves’ fast start, “and as the game got on we just looked tired—we were real tired.”
Waco took advantage, chipping away at the Shoemaker lead until a pull-up 3-pointer by guard Matthew McGown cut the lead to 46-40.
The rally continued into the fourth quarter as Shoemaker didn’t score for the first 1:10.
Johnson ended the drought with a 3-pointer to put Shoemaker up 49-44 after Waco had pulled within a basket for the first time.
The second time came after a pair of Zarious Wilson free throws pulled the Lions within 52-50 with 3:57 to play.
After Shoemaker scored the next four points on Mark’s free throws and alley oop, Waco responded by pulling within a possession again when McGowan hit a runner and was fouled.
But Mark, who was a solid 5 for 7 from the line, nailed a pair of free throws again to put Shoemaker up 58-53 with 2:52 remaining in the game, the start of a 7-1 run that all but ended the game.
Shoemaker made up for a 12 for 28 performance at the free throw line by shooting a blistering 8-17 from 3-point range.
Johnson also had 10 rebounds for Shoemaker to complete a double-double.
And after the early test against the Lions, Prichett was not only satisfied, but eager to see his team build on its exhilarating season-opening win.
“We keep working (now),” Prichett said. “Try to get better.”
Final Score: Shoemaker 69-59