ALEDO — No. 15 Burleson Centennial held a 23-point lead in the second half but had to hang on for dear life down the stretch for a 75-70 win over Brewer as the Spartans captured their first-ever area championship Friday at Aledo High School.
The Spartans, who won their first-ever district title this season, added to their ongoing record for wins in a single season with 30 after the hard-fought, five-point win over the Bears in the Class 5A Region I area playoff battle.
Centennial was in control throughout the first half, but Brewer showed great resolve in the second half by cutting the 23-point deficit down to four points. In the end, the Spartans found a way to move on to the regional quarterfinals despite their four leading scorers on the season fouling out.
“Good teams win ugly,” Centennial Coach Trovocie Jackson said. “That's been a motto of ours all season long. Not everything's going to be pretty. We jumped out on them pretty early and there's a natural let-up that happens with kids. There's this, we like to call it, youthful arrogance that happens amongst them because they're so confident that they believe literally every shot is going in. It knocks their focus off just a step.
“Against a good-coached program and such a disciplined program like Brewer is, they'll make you pay for the smallest mistake. And they absolutely did so. Hats off to Coach P and those guys. Those kids played their butts off. Neither team deserved to lose, that's for certain.”
Behind the impressive shooting and playmaking ability of senior guards Tayton Conerway and Keryn Collins, the Spartans went on a 20-4 run to take a 26-11 lead after the first quarter. Centennial added to its lead in the second quarter to make it a 46-25 advantage at halftime as Conerway and Collins combined for 27 first-half points.
After a Collins bucket to open the third quarter gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the night at 48-25, Brewer went on a 16-2 run run to cut the deficit down to nine at 50-41.
With momentum shifting to the Bears' side, Centennial junior backup forward Jeb Tobin drew a charge that provided a much-needed momentum boost for the Spartans. Centennial responded with a 9-0 run of its own to reclaim a sizeable lead at 59-41.
“Oh my goodness, what a play,” Jackson said. “He's been preparing for his moment. He's a kid that's gone through a lot throughout this season. That moment was huge for him. That moment was huge for our team. Taking a charge is the most selfless act in basketball because you're putting your body on the line for everybody else. I'm so proud of him. We've got good, strong, tough, confident kids who find a way to get it done.”
Centennial carried a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the Spartans' four senior leaders were in a bit of foul trouble. And that eventually made an impact on the game late.
Brewer began the fourth quarter with nine unanswered points to cut Centennial's lead down to six points at 59-53 — the smallest margin since it was 12-7 in the first quarter.
With Centennial senior forwards Jacob Stuckey and Zach Bolf already on the bench after fouling out with 5:11 and 4:34 left, respectively, Collins and Conerway combined to score the next 11 points for the Spartans, who held a 70-60 lead with 2:01 to play.
But both Conerway and Collins joined Stuckey and Bolf on the bench after picking up their fifth personal fouls at the 1:48 and 1:40 marks, respectively, meaning more than 90 percent of the team's scoring on the season was forced to watch the rest of the way.
After Tobin and freshman Phillip Hamilton each hit 1-of-2 free throws, the Spartans still maintained a 10-point lead at 72-62 with only 1:11 left, but Centennial committed four turnovers in the final 71 seconds as Brewer scored six straight points to pull to within four points at 72-68 with 30 seconds left.
Centennial senior backup Marek Kerr hit two clutch free throws with 20 seconds left for a 74-68 lead, but the Bears' Curtis Moffett scored less than four seconds later to make it a four-point game again.
The Spartans then missed two free throws but Hamilton came away with an offensive rebound before senior backup forward Monte Johnson was fouled. Johnson hit 1-of-2 at the stripe with 8 seconds left, and time simply ran out for the Bears.
While less than an ideal finish, Jackson said he was proud of his younger players for making enough plays necessary to survive.
“We had to have some confidence in some young guys,” he said. “We had to finish that game with two freshmen and a junior on the floor, with the two freshmen being our primary ball handlers. That's tough. Those kids have never been in a situation like that; they've never been in that kind of heat. ... But good teams find a way to win ugly and those guys really sucked it up and did a good job. I'm proud of them.”
Collins and Conerway combined for 47 points as Collins scored 24 with six assists and four steals while Conerway added 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds and four assists.
Stuckey had 11 points and seven rebounds while Bolf added seven points and seven boards.
Brewer senior guard Devin Avent poured in a game-high 29 points while Moffett finished with 18 points for the Bears.
In a season full of firsts — first district title, first 30-win season, first area championship — Jackson said this group is leaving a lasting legacy, with more still to come.
“History makers; first-ever area title,” Jackson said. “Since I've gotten here [in 2017-18], these kids have had an expectation. We work our butts off to meet every expectation. We wanted 30 wins, we got that. We wanted an area title, we got that. That group of seniors has cemented themselves in the history of Centennial High School and Burleson ISD, in general, as possibly — well, without a doubt — the best basketball team that's ever come through the city of Burleson.”
Now the Spartans (30-6) will face District 5-5A foe Arlington Seguin, the No. 4 seed, in the regional quarterfinals at a time and location to be determined. Centennial swept Arlington Seguin with wins of 84-69 on Jan. 24 and 74-68 on Feb. 18.
All four teams from District 5-5A have advanced to the regional quarterfinals.