By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
SALADO - A week ago, Salado was floundering on the outside of the District 25-3A playoff race following a 21-point loss to Liberty Hill.
Turns out, all the Eagles needed was a little patience.
Moving the ball around with composure and conviction, Salado rocked rival Lampasas to sleep defensively and moved within a win of locking up the final playoff spot in 25-3A with a 50-29 victory Friday at home.
"It was a big win for us - we just went out there, made our shots and played our game," said junior guard Brandon Womac, who led with 14 points.
Added sophomore point guard Kase Spears: "We really felt like we owed it to the senior to make it to the playoffs, so we just went out there and played as hard as we could."
With the victory, Salado's second straight following a 38-36 upset of second-seeded Burnet on Tuesday, the Eagles (19-13, 5-4 25-3A) move into a two-way tie with the Badgers (18-11, 5-4) for the third and final playoff spot in 25-3A.
"They just won the playoff spot right there," said Lampasas coach Rob Shivers. "They were playing to win it, we just came to play - that was the biggest difference."
Although it's far from locked up, with Salado finishing the season at Taylor - whose only two district wins are against last-place Llano - and Lampasas wrapping up the season at 25-3A champion Liberty Hill, the victory all but assures the Eagles their seventh postseason appearance in the last eight years.
"We put our backs against the wall by losing in the first half to Burnet and Lampasas, and I think the guys just really impressed me with their desire to win and everything they do," Mann said. "Winners win - that's kind of been our motto this year."
Registering anywhere from four to 10 or more passes with nearly every possession, the Eagles' deliberate ball movement created scoring opportunities and forced Lampasas to overextend defensively.
"Our offense is really designed to move the ball around and get things moving so we can get openings to the basket," Mann said. "Earlier in games we weren't patient and threw up shots that weren't open. I thought they just did a better job of being patient in our offense."
That included a rare four-point play by Spears in which he put up a 3-pointer as the Badgers' Shonderius Howard came flying at him late for the block. With the and-one, the Eagles built a 17-8 lead with 5:45 left in the second quarter. Spears finished with 13 points while senior Jada Kornegay added 11 and seven rebounds.
Following Womac's only 3-pointer of the game 1:36 into the first, the Eagles deliberately built a 10-4 lead after the first quarter that ballooned to 23-10 by halftime as the Badgers shot just 3-of-15 from the field in the first half.
Things didn't get any better for Lampasas in the third as Salado outshot the Badgers 14-3 in shot attempts, converting five in a 13-4 third quarter effort.
Lampasas junior Mason Murray led way with 13 points, four of which came in a brief 10-0 run in the first 1:50 of the fourth that pulled the Badgers within 36-26 as they tried to speed up the game. But they couldn't sustain it as Womac hit a hard layup on the ensuing possession to spark a personal 6-0 run and Salado sealed it at the free throw line, sinking 11 of 17 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
"We just weathered the storm a little bit," Mann said.