By Nick Talbot
Killeen Daily Herald
SPRING BRANCH - Salado had peaked at the right time.
The Eagles had won five of their last six district games to make the playoffs, including wins over Burnet and Lampasas, which had both beaten them in the first round. Then Salado had won a gut-wrenching overtime game against Wimberley in a bi-district playoff game.
But after every peak there is a downward slope and the Eagles fell down it Friday.
Salado only shot 30 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc as it fell 47-42 to the Hondo Owls in the Region IV-3A area-round matchup at Smithson Valley High.
"We missed a lot of open shots," said Salado coach Kenny Mann. "We had a lot of opportunities to score and we didn't. (Hondo) made a lot of big shots in the second half and we didn't answer them … we came back and turned it over."
Jason Gentry, who led all scorers with 23 points, started the game the same way he finished it - hot from beyond the arc. The senior drained the first two shots of the game and put the Owls (25-7) up 6-0.
With less than a second to go in the first quarter, Hondo post Tommy Littlefield clanked a free throw off the front of the rim and Issac Green pushed the ball back up and into the goal as time expired.
The last-second tip-in gave the Owls a 16-9 lead after one quarter.
However, Salado (22-14) went on a 10-0 run that started with a three-point play by Jada Kornegay. Sam Barrett capped off the run with a pair of free throws that put the Eagles up 19-18 late in the second quarter. Gentry answered with a jumper on the other end, but Brandon Womac drained a 3 with less than 10 seconds left in the half to send Salado into the break with a 22-21 lead.
Womac continued his hot hand in the third quarter.
The junior wing stroked a mid-range jumper and then a minute later hit another 3-pointer to put Salado up 27-23. After Hondo cut the Salado lead back to one, Womac, who led the Eagles with 12 points, got his own putback for a 30-27 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, though, Gentry got going again. After missing all three of his 3-pointers in the second and third quarters, the senior guard buried both of his attempts in the fourth.
The first put the Owls up 33-30. His brother, Micah, then hit his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer, as Hondo went up by six.
"At halftime we talked about not letting our emotions get the better of us …we just refocused a little bit," said Hondo coach Fred McCollum. "We are a jump-shooting team and we struggle at times … and it takes us a while to work it out. I know when I have (Jason Gentry) on my team we have a shot."
However, Koby Spears drained a wide-open 3 and Kornegay got an inside scoop as the Eagles railed off a 9-2 run. But Gentry struck again. This time he hit a deep 3-pointer as the Owls took a 41-39 lead.
Salado post Austin Adams answered with a 3 that tied the game at 42-42 with 1:56 left in the fourth.
However, Gentry then went coast-to-coast for an easy bucket and Salado turned the ball over on two straight possessions and allowed the Owls to pull away.
"We had our offensive set that we normally run, looking to get an open 3 or an easy trip to the basket," Mann said. "We had time to get either one. … We passed it down to the block and instead of going up, we tried to kick it out and turned it over."