MIDLOTHIAN – Prior to stepping foot on the hardwood inside the gymnasium of Midlothian Heritage High School, Glen Rose knew it was destined for a dogfight. The Mustangs of Life Waxahachie High School entered Tuesday’s Bi-District playoff game toting a No. 6 ranking by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches and a 15-game win streak.

A lot was going to have to go right in order for the Runnin’ Tigers to pull off the upset and through the first three minutes of game action the dream seemed real.

But if those three minutes were a dream, then the final 16 minutes were a nightmare. Looking back on the 25-point, 68-43 Bi-District loss, there were several key points of momentum swings and scoring runs, but none bigger than the Mustangs 40-18-scoring run during the second half.

The win continues the Mustangs perfect streak since flipping the calendar to 2016.

“The kids have bought into the ‘It’s the we and not the me,’” Life Waxahachie Head Coach Eddie Berumen said. “I think Glen Rose got a little tired and I think that was the difference for them, and, for us, we started playing better defense partly because they probably were a little tired. That probably helped a little with the offensive rebounding, too.

“[…] You have to give credit to Glen Rose, they did an awesome job and coach [Owen Clifton] does an awesome job with his kids. Watching them on film and watching them play, you can tell that his kids just play so hard.”

The biggest storyline entering the game was the sheer size difference between the two teams – (32-3) Life Waxahachie entered with a starting five averaging 6-foot-3 and (22-11) Glen Rose a few ticks over 6-foot. But that story line changed shortly after the 7 p.m. first tip.

Despite the disadvantage on the growth chart, Glen Rose jumped out to a 7-0 lead over the first 2:14 of the first quarter and had the Mustangs on their heels defensively. The Runnin’ Tigers dictated the pace with their opportunity offense and full-court pressure on defense.

The first spark and sign of life for the Mustangs was provided by 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Justin Nimmer. After a split trip to the line for Life Waxahachie’s first point, Nimmer blocked the shot of Glen Rose’s 5-foot-7 point guard Tucker Garza and Kensen Vaughn rewarded the defensive effort with the Mustangs first made shot from the field.

Kensen’s three pulled the Mustangs within four, but it was what transpired two possessions later that turned the game.

Tipping point

Glen Rose’s Devin Crawford, a 6-foot-1 forward, was called for a shooting foul on Nimmer and slammed the ball to the hardwood in frustration for a second whistle and a technical foul. Nimmer drained all four of the subsequent free throws and a Vaughn layup after the inbound capped the six-point swing.

“We had two big calls go against us,” said first-year Glen Rose Head Coach Owen Clifton. “Devin’s technical foul, even though it was the right call, was a six-point swing and huge momentum killer.”

The Mustangs’ eighth-year head coach, who is now sitting two wins from No. 200 in his career with the Mustangs (198-78), agreed with Clifton on the momentum shift.

“Unfortunately, we have been there before,” Berumen said. “[The technical foul] was a huge turn in our favor and it sort of slowed everything down for us. I try not to call timeouts in those kinds of situations so the kids won’t panic. You hope that over the years the kids learn to remember not to panic and remember that they have been there before.”

Joshua Sanders, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward, used his second and-one for the game’s fourth – and final – lead change with 49.8 seconds to play in the first quarter.

Life Waxahachie closed the first eight minutes on a 19-10 run and opened the second quarter with a three from the leftwing to build its lead to four, 21-17.

Glen Rose’s Ethan Hartman grabbed an offensive rebound and made both free throws after being fouled on the put-back layup. The 6-foot junior then blocked a shot on the defensive end and collected a second-straight offensive rebound.

This time, Hartman got the put back to go and pulled the Runnin’ Tigers within one, 26-25 with under a minute remaining on the first-half clock.

Free throw woes

The Mustangs added a transition layup to take a 28-25 lead into the third quarter. But at the half, it was free throws that had taken over the game’s narrative.

After Nimmer and Sanders combined to shoot 12-of-15 from the line in the first quarter, the Mustang’s took just two more shots from the charity stripe in the second. The Mustangs’ free throws came in bunches, but Glen Rose attempted 14 free throws of its own during the first half.

The biggest difference was that the Mustangs converted on 12-of-their-15 attempts (80 percent) from the line, while the Runnin’ Tigers went just 6-of-14 on theirs (42.9 percent). It was a trend that did not reverse in the second half, as Waxahachie Life finished 17-of-24 from the line for a 71-percent mark compared to Glen Rose’s 44-percent showing on 7-of-16 shooting.

“This year’s team is the best free throw shooting team that we have had in a long time,” Berumen said. “[…] The last three times we have gone to the regional tournament, free throws were our Achilles Heel, but these guys have learned from other people’s mistakes and they have worked on it.

“This is also our first time to have a gym for them to be able to stay after practice and shoot and I think that has made a huge difference,” Berumen added.

Curtain call

After being held scoreless during the second quarter, Vaughn scored seven-straight – with three coming from the charity stripe – to build the Mustangs’ lead to 10 points, 39-29 with 4:27 on the third quarter clock. The 6-foot-5-senior guard was also successful in drawing Wyatt Goebel’s fourth personal foul.

With Goebel’s 6-foot-4-frame forced to the bench early in the third quarter, the Mustangs took their offensive game to the low post and backed-off the defensive pressure to force Glen Rose into a half-court offense. The move was the final nail in Glen Rose’s proverbial coffin.

“With [Goebel] being in foul trouble that affects their flow a lot, because he is a great player,” Berumen said. “After all of the film we watched of [Goebel] and [Garza], I would love to coach those two guys. They play hard, smart, good basketball. This was a good win for us. Glen Rose is not a fourth place team in that district and we didn’t think that at all. That is a tough district and they could have easily been second in it.”

Clifton said that the change to a smaller lineup also allowed for the Mustangs to begin cleaning the offensive glass with regularity – which they were not able to do as easily in the first half.

“They did a real good job of crashing the glass in the second half when we had to go to the shorter lineup, but I’m proud of our boys,” Clifton said. “I thought they played hard the whole time and the entire year. We just didn’t do enough to execute tonight in the second half.”

The Mustangs’ length took a while to surface, but it eventually did and allowed for Berumen’s team to outrebound the Runnin’ Tigers 37-25 overall and 15-10 on the offensive glass.

Four Mustangs reached double figures in the scoring department on a night when they shot 51-percent-from-the-field as a team and knocked down just eight baskets from outside of the paint. Nimmer and Sanders led with a game-high 17 points, while Vaughn added 14, Robin White scored 12, and Jonathan Hurst and Daniel Nguyen scored four points, respectively.

Goebel’s 15 points, and Hartman’s nine points and six rebounds paced Glen Rose, while Devin Crawford and Bailey Holder added six points, each. Crawford also pulled down a team-high-seven rebounds. Tucker Garza ended his stellar Glen Rose career with five points, two rebounds and an assist, and Cashion Klipfel scored two points to round out Glen Rose’s scoring.

The Mustangs move on to face Henrietta in 3A Region 2’s Area Championship.

For Glen Rose, the venue and opponent will become quite familiar over the next two years while competing against one another, along with Midlothian Heritage, in basketball’s District 8-4A.

When asked what he was going to miss the most about this year’s senior class of Holder, McAnear, Klipfel, Goebel, Crawford and Garza, Clifton’s answer was simple – “Them.”

“Them as people and their character and who they are,” Clifton said. “They are so much fun, they know when to be serious and they know when to get down to business. They are pretty sarcastic like I am, so I will miss that about them, too.

“These seniors have been a great group and a great group of kids. I’m just proud of them and thought they played hard all season.”