ROBINSON — Celneque Bobbitt can sense it is returning.
For three seasons, Harker Heights was forced to watch from the sidelines as other area teams claimed playoff berths. Last year, however, the Knights finally returned to the postseason, where they experienced a lopsided loss in the opening round.
Harker Heights made its second consecutive playoff appearance Tuesday, and although the result was the same, the feelings surrounding it were different.
Despite pulling within three points, the Knights could not erase a double-digit deficit in the second half, suffering a 58-52 loss to Mansfield, and while the outcome was disappointing, Harker Heights’ head coach is pleased with the progression.
“Our tradition has always been really strong in the past,” Bobbitt said, “and these guys have helped turn it back around. Part of that is because they were able to beat Ellison.
“Now, we have to learn from Ellison, because those are kids that expect to win. They aren’t hesitant or think about it, and there is a difference when you go into a game and expect to win.”
The Knights simply could not get over the hump against the Tigers.
Mansfield recorded eight of the game’s first 10 points before taking a 13-8 lead into the second quarter, where Harker Heights (17-6) roared back. The Knights posted six unanswered points to open the period, claiming their first lead at 14-13 on junior Antwan Taylor’s fastbreak dunk.
Moments later, Camrin Forde’s steal and transition basket gave Harker Heights an 18-16 advantage, but it would not grow any larger.
The Tigers closed the half with a 9-1 run, and never trailed again.
“Mansfield is a scrappy team,” Bobbitt said, “and things just didn’t fall our way. I think missing our last district ballgame and being sidelined 14 straight days because of the weather left us a little rusty.
“I saw the kids for the first time Monday, and I could tell we had missed a step or two.”
The Knights rediscovered their rhythm in the third quarter, pulling within five points at 32-27, but the Tigers used another run to regain control. Mansfield (20-4) sandwiched a pair of 5-0 outbursts around Taylor’s 3-pointer to build a 42-30 cushion by the end of the period.
Sparked by juniors C.J. Evans and Terrance Carter, who posted 10 and eight points, respectively, in the fourth quarter, helped trim the deficit to 55-52 with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game. The tandem accounted for all but four of Harker Heights’ points in the period, but the Tigers closed the game at the free-throw line, where they scored the contest’ final points.
For the game, Mansfield made 21 of 29 free throws, while the Knights were 10-of-16 shooting at the line.
“Both teams were playing the same style of basketball,” Bobbitt said, “but one ended up with almost 30 free throws.
“But that’s just how it goes sometimes, and it gives the kids who get to come back something to work on.”
Evans finished with a team-high 14 points to go with three rebounds, two assists and two steals in the loss, while Carter had 13 points. Additionally, Taylor scored seven points along with four rebounds, two assists and a pair of blocks.
While all three players get to return next year as the Knights aim for a third consecutive playoff trip, seven players are not as fortunate. Camrin Forde, Carlos Hernandez, Khalial Young, Jailyn Mayfield, Jalen Kaderka-Brown, Joel Toribio and Diego Morales will each graduate.
Although the losses will be felt, so will their contributions.
“We hadn’t been ranked in the state since 2016,” Bobbitt said, “but we were this year.
“I applaud this senior class, because they brought the winning tradition back to Harker Heights. ... That’s the best thing about this school — we have tradition.”
MANSFIELD 58, HARKER HTS 52
Harker Heights (52)
Evans 14, Carter 13, Taylor 7, Forde 5, Dixon 5, Mayfield 4, Kaderka-Brown 2, Vincent 2.
Iyamah 19, Crippen 14, Thibert 9, Davenport 8, Maktabi 5, Butler 3.
Harker Heights 8 11 11 22—52
Mansfield 13 12 17 16—58
3-Point Goals—Harker Heights 4 (Evans, Taylor, Carter, Mayfield), Mansfield 2 (Crippen 2). Free Throws—Harker Heights 10-16, Mansfield 21-29. Fouled Out—Taylor, Carter). Total Fouls—Harker Heights 26, Mansfield 15. Technicals—None.
Records—Harker Heights 17-6, Mansfield 20-4.
TUESDAY’S HIGH SCHOOL BOYS PLAYOFF SCORES
Class 6A bi-district
- No. 9 Ellison 79, Cedar Hill 57
- Mansfield 58, Harker Heights 52
- No. 1 Waxahachie 99, Belton 62
Class 4A bi-district
- Lampasas 77, Graham 68