JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
MARBLE FALLS — With eight seconds left and trailing Wimberley 61-59 in a Class 4A bi-district championship Feb. 24, the Burnet High School boys basketball team broke the huddle and inbounded the ball.
For this group of four juniors and 10 sophomores, they had what they wanted: a chance.
And even though the ball rolled around the rim and popped out to end the season for the Bulldogs (14-14 overall, 5-5 District 25-4A), head coach Roy Kiser couldn’t help but reflect on the positives.
“Our young kids did a great job,” he said. “They grew up. They got baptized this year. That’s what this is about. They are skilled enough to play. They had to go through the hard practices and getting yelled at and told, ‘This is the way it’s going to be done.’”
After the game, few people would have believed the 26-4A co-champion Texans (21-8, 10-2 District 26-4A) defeated Burnet 69-52 in December.
But from the opening tip in the rematch, the fans saw a different mindset.
Even when trailing 8-4 midway through the opening period, Burnet wouldn’t go away. Only a late surge in the final 96 seconds gave Wimberley a 15-11 lead.
The Bulldogs opened the second period by taking a 21-17 advantage. Burnet junior forward Jesse Pollard scored from the low block with 30 seconds remaining for a 33-30 lead. But Texans junior swingman Will Simpson’s reverse layup was the final bucket of the quarter to trim the deficit to 33-32.
The second half couldn’t have started better for Burnet.
In 90 seconds, the Bulldogs had three steals and three layups. Junior guard Darius Johnson had two in a row, while sophomore guard Caelin Graves had the other.
But Wimberley went on a 12-2 run to end the period for 44-41 advantage.
The Texans led by seven twice in the final quarter. Still the Bulldogs found a way to stay within a possession, even when the Texans went to a stall in the last two minutes to set up the final shot of the game.
Kiser said a big challenge this season was getting his players to buy into his system.
“Play with confidence,” he said. “Sometimes, guys don’t get that until they graduate. We asked guys to believe they could do some things, and they did. They got in the playoffs, they earned it.”
Burnet’s turning point in the season came during a team meeting after a 66-48 loss to Salado on Feb. 6. Players noted one of the improvements had to be not dwelling on a mistake.
“We’re going to shake it off,” Kiser said. “(Assistant coach Stuart) Dixon does a good job of reminding them of that.”
They shook off the 84-48 loss to Liberty Hill four days later and then started a winning streak to get in the playoffs as the third-place team. That helped his players grow, Kiser said
“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We felt like we could come win this game. They believed they could. That, to me, was the biggest battle. With our lack of size and who we are, we believed we could do some good things.”
The coach laughed when a fan noted his athletes played a team that had more players who shaved than were on the Burnet roster.
“You know, that’s what I told our guys at halftime,” he said with a grin. “I’m ready for our guys to wear their shorts without having to fold them up.”
He had no doubt the Bulldogs are a much better team than from where they began.
“Miles apart from where we started,” he said. “The guys are disappointed because they thought they could win. Once we get past (this game), they’ll reflect back and think we made some good strides this year.”
TOP PLAYERS: (Points) Wimberley – Will Simpson 21, Brock McDorman 11, Carter Garrison 11; Burnet – Johnson 16, Pollard 10
ON OFFENSE: (Points) Wimberley – Hunter Johnson 6, Grayson Pate 5, Davin Masur 3, Conor Straton 2, Hudson Doty 2; Burnet – Daniel Hurst 8, Caelin Graves 6, Ryan Robertson 5, Kyle Cavender 5, Drew Kiser 4, Carlos Herrera 4, Luke Pemberton 1
RECORDS: Burnet finishes 14-14 overall and 5-5 in District 25-4A; Wimberley is 21-8 overall and 10-2 in District 26-4A.