As the seconds ticked away in the waning moments of a 58-42 loss to Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial, the Dripping Springs boys basketball team shared as many smiles as it did sobs.
Tigers players and coaches knew what they had accomplished during a remarkable playoff run, and not even a decisive setback inside Northside Gym on Saturday could dampen their spirits.
“For the most part, we understood that we were on a magical run,” said Dripping Springs coach Craig Swannack. “Ultimately, it won’t hit them today, but they’ll look back and say ‘Wow, look what we did.’ ”
The Tigers delivered their best postseason run since the 1986 team qualified for the UIL state tournament. In reaching the Class 5A, Region IV final, Dripping Springs won four playoff games after finishing the regular season with a ho-hum 21-13 record and placing third in District 26-5A.
In the end, Swannack said, the Tigers’ regular-season record and their playoff seeding were a bit misleading. Richard Milliron and Nicky Breen, the Tigers’ two leading scorers, both missed significant playing time because of heath concerns, and three players didn’t join Dripping Springs’ basketball squad until the end of the Tigers’ historic run to the fourth round of the Class 5A, Division I football playoffs.
“It definitely feels good, what we did this year,” said Milliron, who led the Tigers with 14 points and 11 rebounds, “but at the same time, we wanted more. We felt we could go all the way.”
At halftime, it appeared the Tigers (25-14) might return to the UIL boys state tournament after a lengthy absence. In the opening half, the 6-foot-6 Milliron and his 6-5 teammate Cullen Young combined for 17 first-half points as Dripping Springs built a 29-26 lead.
At halftime, though, Veterans Memorial coach Xzavier Gaines made a defensive tweak that proved critical for the Eagles (31-6).
“Usually, we front the post and have some weakside help,” Gaines said, “but they did a good job of keeping our weakside defenders occupied so we just started double-teaming them on the pass in.”
In the second half, Veterans Memorial rolled up 32 points while Dripping Springs went dry. The Tigers made just five baskets after halftime, and two came in the final minute of play. They didn’t score a point in the fourth quarter until Nicky Breen dropped in a floater with 2:40 to go. By that time, Veterans Memorial had stretched a 38-36 advantage to an 11-point lead.
By that time, Veterans Memorial had stretched a 38-36 advantage to an 11-point lead and were cruising to an appearance at state in just the school’s second year of existence.
“They definitely made a few adjustments,” Swannack said of Veterans Memorial, which qualified for the state tournament in just the school’s second year of existence. “They packed it in a little more. We still got some looks, but they didn’t fall. Give credit to Veterans Memorial; they hit all the big shots and we couldn’t seem to get them to fall in the second half.”