UIL Boys Basketball State Tournament
Class 6A semifinals (Friday)
Dallas Skyline (34-1) vs. Houston Cypress Falls (33-3), 7 p.m.
Wagner (35-2) vs. Keller (33-2), 8:30 p.m.
Championship game: 8:30 p.m., Saturday
Notable: Wagner is making its third appearance in the state tournament.
SAN ANTONIO – The gloomy weather stood in stark contrast to the warm afterglow of victory the Wagner boys basketball team was basking in on Sunday.
Down by nine going into the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds rallied for a 55-53 win over Austin Westlake in the Region IV-6A final Saturday in Laredo to earn a berth in the state tournament for the third time in school history.
Wagner (35-2) will play Keller (33-2) in the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Alamodome. Dallas Skyline (34-1) meets Houston Cypress Falls (33-3) in the first 6A semifinal at 7 p.m.
"I'm still keyed up a little bit," Thunderbirds coach Rodney Clark said Sunday afternoon. "It hasn't even set in all the way yet. I'm still, man, we're going to state. It's just a special feeling. It's surreal."
Wagner and Keller finished the regular season No. 7 and No. 13, respectively, in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 6A state rankings.
Wagner is the only San Antonio-area school that qualified for the state tournament.
The University Interscholastic League state tournament, being played at the Alamodome for the third consecutive year, tips off with the Class A semifinals at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and ends with the 6A title game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Clark was an assistant coach under Clifton Ellis when Wagner lost in the state semifinals in 2009 and 2010. He learned quickly Sunday that going to the state tournament entails a few more administrative responsibilities for a head coach.
One of the first phone calls Clark got Sunday morning while returning home to San Antonio from feeding his horses in the Marion/New Berlin was from UIL assistant athletic director Darryl Beasley.
"He was calling to ask me about pictures or whatever else I had to get done," Clark said, referring to the material the UIL needs for the state tournament game program. "I looked at my email. and there were two or three different messages from UIL staff, saying this needs to happen and what not. I was almost in panic mode.
"Then our AD (Judson ISD athletic director Mike Miller) called and said, 'Meet me at Judson at 3.' So we're up there getting the game officials situated, and the ticket stuff and whatever else we had in that packet from the UIL done."
When "all that stuff" was done, Clark and his staff started working on a game plan for Keller. The Indians also pulled out a close win Saturday, edging Arlington Bowie 57-55 in the Region I-6A final. Carson Hughes got a steal and scored on a laup with 15 seconds left to send Keller to San Antonio.
The Thunderbirds routed Laredo United 81-46 in the regional semifinals Friday, avenging a 57-54 loss to the Longhorns on Dec. 17 in Laredo.
Baylor signee Tristan Clark scored 27 points in the regional final against Westlake, and DaRaun Clark (no relation) added 14 points. DaRaun Clark, a nephew of Rodney Clark, hit a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to lift the Thunderbirds to victory.
Westlake led 44-35 after three quarters, but Judson outscored the Chaparrals 20-9 in the final period.
"Our players were real focused and ready to play," Rodney Clark said. "I had told them, 'You don't come all this way just to play a game. Nobody just wants to play. We're here for a reason.' They stuck to that."
Clark said he read an inspirational story titled "Hold the Rope," to his players before Saturday's shootaround.
"When we were going into the fourth quarter and we're down nine, the look on the guys' faces was like, 'Oh, man. What are we doing?'" Clark said. "I kind of chuckled and told them, 'Look, there is what you're here for. You're here for competition. You don't get into sports for blowouts all the time.'
"At the end of it, I just reminded them, 'We're going to hold the rope.' I had to remind them that they (Chaparrals) went on their run and we weathered that storm. The storm had passed and we've got to come out and finish the game. They wholeheartedly did everything they needed to do to get that win."
Westlake finished the regular season No. 12 in the TABC 6A state rankings.
Wagner won the District 27-6A title with a 13-1 record, with the only loss coming to Steele on Feb. 10. Rodney Clark is 112-55 since succeeding Ellis as the Thunderbirds' coach in 2012. Wagner opened in 2005 and played its first varsity season in 2006-07.
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