By Ernie W. Webb III
Special to the Telegram
EMPORIA - South Gray (23-2) appeared to be in position for another trip to a state championship game during Friday's Class 1A Division I semifinal against Macksville (24-1).
The Rebels were in the midst of a 6-0 run to cut a double-digit deficit to 35-32, but the Mustangs got crucial back-to-back 3-pointers from Adam Oak and handed South Gray a 62-54 loss.
"They got free for some shots on the perimeter that we didn't guard well enough on, and that really hurt," said South Gray coach Mark Applegate.
"Give Macksville credit. That is a very good team and they played well tonight."
Oak's treys accounted for six of the 10 points he scored during the final three minutes of the third quarter as Macksville regained control.
His last was a wild, leaning 10-footer that rattled in and gave the Mustangs a 47-36 lead going into the final quarter.
"I just kind of got that feeling that we needed some big plays," said Oak, who hit 5-of-6 3-pointers. "I felt like I was in a zone and was looking for my shot when they got close."
The third-seeded Rebels scored the first three points of the game, but the second-seeded Mustangs used a barrage of 3-pointers in the final six minutes of the first quarter to take a 19-11 lead.
Macksville, which shot 58 percent (7-of-12) behind the arc, hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter.
"We started out in a zone, and we should have been in man-to-man," Applegate said. "That's my fault. Once we switched defenses, we got right back in the game."
The switch paid off late in the second quarter, and South Gray got back-to-back baskets from Ronald Martens and Derek Ridenour to pull within 33-26 at halftime.
The Rebels scored six of the first eight points in the third quarter, going on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 35-32 with 3:02 left.
"When we got on that run, I thought we were playing very well and had our chance," Applegate said. "But they made a lot of big plays late in the third quarter. We just didn't have an answer."
The Mustangs led by as many as 14 points, at 58-44, with two minutes remaining, but South Gray got within 58-50 on Garrison Hendricks' long 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:07 left.
Macksville, which went 17-of-25 at the foul line, made just enough free throws in the closing minute to advance.
"The kids played well tonight, and we needed to against a good South Gray team," said Macksville coach Jeff Kuckelman, whose team plays South Haven tonight for the state title.
"We got off to a good start and made enough plays when they went on a run."
Martens had a double-double for South Gray with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Hendricks had 11 points. Austin Love had eight points and 16 rebounds for the Rebels, who play Victoria for third place today.
Kyle Bunker and Seth Filbert had 11 points each for Macksville.
Macksville committed just six turnovers compared to South Gray's 12.
South Gray was also held to 1-of-10 from beyond the arc while Macksville shot 7-of-12.
South Gray 11 15 10 18 -- 54
Macksville 19 14 14 15 -- 62
South Gray (54)
Mosher 1-2 0-0 2, Love 4-10 0-0 8, Watkins 3-5 0-0 6, Hendricks 5-18 0-0 11, Ridenour 3-6 4-8 10, Martens 4-10, 3-4 11, Slaven 3-7 0-0 6. Totals 23-58 7-12 54.
Bunker 2-14 7-8 11, Filbert 5-8 0-3 11, Oak 5-14 4-4 19, Tranbarger 1-3 3-6 5, Bevan 3-4 2-2 8, Ibarra 2-4 1-2 5, Baray 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 19-50 17-25 62.
3-point goals - South Gray 1-10 (Hendricks 1-6, Love 0-1, Ridenour 0-1, Martens 0-1, Slaven 0-1); Macksville 7-12 (Oak 5-6, Filbert 1-2, Baray 1-1, Tranbarger 0-2, Bunker 0-1). Rebounds - South Gray 45 (Love 16, Martens 12); Macksville 30 (Bevan 9). Turnovers - South Gray 12, Macksville 6. Total fouls - South Gray 19, Macksville 15. Fouled out - None.