By J.P. Plant
LORETTO — Like an opening scene in a modern Western, the Mustangs were running wild Tuesday night.
Both host Loretto and visiting Huntingdon were ready from the start trading baskets in the opening minutes. Ultimately it was the homestanding Mustangs that found their way back to ‘The Barn’ first in a 71-58 Region 6-A semifinal win, clinching a berth in the region finals and the upcoming state sectionals.
Coming into the contest, Loretto was not quite at 100 percent, causing some concern for coach Greg Tipps.
“Brendon (Tipps) is battling strep throat and had IVs. Shaler Hankins has a stomach virus and was getting treatment. So between that and just the wear and tear and their tremendous athletic ability, those things were all a concern for me,” the elder Tipps said after the game.
“I’m just so proud of these guys for stepping up with the gut check and without a lot of depth finding a way to win.”
Tipps was admittedly surprised with just how well his team came out from the opening tip.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said with a chuckle, “I thought we could compete with them but I just knew we had to be on point because you worry anytime you have some guys a little ill. We were prepared but you just have to give the guys all the credit.”
And on point his guys were — shooting 54% (7-13) from behind the arc after pounding the paint in the first quarter. Three of those seven 3s fueled a 15-0 run for Loretto, extending a 14-11 lead late in the first to an 18-point advantage by the 2:39 mark in the second.
Huntingdon spent the next two-plus quarters clawing back amidst an electric atmosphere at The Barn but could only get as close as eight at 60-52 with 4:05 to go in the game.
“They took us out of our game early,” said Huntingdon coach Porsche McClerking. “Their physicality and size made a big difference. Give them credit. They outplayed us.”
Huntingdon had won 10 straight games against opponents not named West Carroll heading into the Tuesday matchup.
“I’m just really proud of our effort, not only tonight but all season long,” McClerking added. “We were peaking at the right time. Again, they just outplayed us.”
This marks the third straight season Loretto has ended Huntingdon’s season in the region tourney, with two of the three coming in the semifinals.
Only six of the 10 players on Loretto’s roster saw significant action. Five of those scored in double figures, with Xavier Young (18 points) and Brendon Tipps (17 points) leading the way — both in an extremely efficient manner, shooting 5-of-6 from inside the arc and Tipps adding a couple of treys.
Keyshum Hoard led Huntingdon with 15 points as one of only two Mustangs in double figures. Milton Clark added 12 on four threes.
Loretto will travel Thursday to West Carroll — the War Eagles survived Summertown 65-64 in double overtime — for the region championship and a chance to host a sectional contest Monday. Game time is 7 p.m.
Tipps immediately began selling the ‘underdog’ role for his squad in Thursday’s matchup — never mind that the Mustangs were ranked fourth in the final Associated Press Class A statewide poll at the end of the regular season, while West Carroll was unranked.
“I would hate to sell our guys short after the effort they gave me but it will be a challenge for sure,” Tipps said.
Loretto boys 71, Huntingdon 58
H 11 8 15 24 — 58
L 19 16 13 23 — 71
Huntingdon (58) — Grant Bartholomew 3, D’Allen McCord 4, Jeb Atkinson 7, Milton Clark 12, Javon Pritchard 8, Blake Bradley 4, Keyshum Hoard 15, Ty Kelley 5
Loretto (71) — Clint Seymore 3, Shaler Hankins 11, Caleb Davis 11, Xavier Young 18, Brendon Tipps 17, Tabias Sirmones 11
3-pointers — Huntingdon 9 (Bartholomew, Atkinson, Clark 4, Pritchard 2, Atkinson, Bradley), Loretto 7 (Seymore, Hankins, Davis 3, Tipps 2)
West Carroll boys 65, Summertown 64 (2 OT)
S 9 10 10 19 10 6 — 64
W 15 6 17 12 10 7 — 65
Summertown (64) — Skyler Trousdale 9, Jake Smith 3, Grayson Burleson 15, Gavin Burleson 19, Grant Burleson 11, Kaden Trotter 7
West Carroll (65) — Luke Moore 20, Jalen Anglin 19, Josh Clark 9, Jed Robinson 6, Tyler Johnson 5, Andrew Huff 2, Xander Moon 4
3-pointers — Summertown 6 (Gy. Burleson 2, Gv. Burleson 2, Trotter), West Carroll 8 (Moore 3, Anglin, Clark, Robinson 2, Johnson)