The Waxahachie Runnin' Indians started something Friday night they haven't had since 2011. A district winning streak.
Waxahachie won a tightly-contested, seesaw contest 78-75 against Ennis at home Friday night to get its second-straight 15-4A win. The team hadn't had back-to-back district wins since beating Corsicana and West Mesquite on Jan. 25 and 28, 2011.
“I guess we can call this a winning streak. The kids have the look in the eye in practice like they believe,” Waxahachie coach Damien Mobley said. “I've told them many times that winning teams find a way to win and losing teams find a way to lose. We're trying to change that and tonight we found a way to win.”
The Indians had to find a way to win because Ennis didn't let them just walk over it. Waxahachie led most of the game, but couldn't ever put the Lions away. The Indians had three seven-point first half leads, but each time Ennis responded by forcing turnovers and creating easy buckets for its big men.
Ennis had a trio of big guys down low that caused headaches for the Indians and allowed them to keep within striking distance. The best example of that came early in the fourth quarter.
Waxahachie built a 60-54 lead and had the ball with 6:40 to go in the game. On back-to-back possessions, the Lions got steals and took them for easy buckets to make it 60-59 with 6:18 to go.
The teams traded buckets until 3:10 was left and Lonnie Johnson wished a three-pointer to put the Indians up 70-63.
“I had actually taken him out of the game earlier because he made a few mistakes,” Mobley said of Johnson. “But I put him back out there after he got over it and hit a big three-pointer.”
Once again, turnovers allowed Ennis to get right back into the game and make it a one-possession game at 70-67. The Indians finally got a steal of their own and that led to Londyn Slaughter breaking away for an effortless looking two-handed dunk to make it 72-67 with 1:50 left in the game. That may have been his loudest bucket, but it wasn't his biggest.
Ennis drilled a three-pointer of its own to pull within 72-70 with 1:21 left. Waxahachie dribbled out a little clock and KJ Erskine went to the line to try and convert a three-point play, but his free throw rimmed out. Slaughter fought through Ennis' long postmen and got the rebound and went straight back up with it to make it 76-72 with 50 seconds left.
“That was huge. That was one of those plays where winning teams find a way to win,” Mobley said. “Londyn has been under the weather all week. And you could really tell early in the game when his timing was off and he was missing easy baskets. One possession, he said he was tired, and the teammates heard him, and everybody on the floor told me to leave him in and they were going to pick him up. He sucked it up and found a way to finish it off.”
Slaughter has been dealing with the flu all week. Mobley joked that he hopes he gets sick next week as the Indians have back-to-back wins with their big man being under the weather.
But even with his big plays, the Indians weren't out of the woods. Ennis attempted a three-pointer to try and make it a one-point play. The shot missed, but Waxahachie was called for a foul, and sent the Lions to the line for three free shots.
All three went in to make it a 76-75 game with :44 left. That was when Mobley made his best move as the Indians' coach. As Waxahachie was bringing the ball up the court to dribble out some more clock or extend its lead, junior guard Nik Ranson got caught in the press against the out of bounds line. He threw up a mercy pass and it was picked off by Ennis and taken down for what appeared to be an easy layup.
But the play was dead because Mobley called a timeout milliseconds before Ranson threw up the Hail Mary.
“I've seen that before. I've looked at them to see if they understood the situation they were in. I looked at Nik and it didn't look like he had a clue what to do next,” Mobley said. “I thought we learned from the last time we were in that situation. We went over it in the time out before where I told them we had three timeouts so if they got in trouble to use one.”
After the time out with 35 seconds left, the Indians were able to in bound the ball and proceeded to play keep away from the Lions for about 25 seconds before Jalen Reagor was left wide open in the paint. He took the pass and laid it in to make it a 78-75 game with five seconds left.
Ennis took a time out to try and set up a last-second play, but the tying three-point attempt was short and the Indians held on to get the victory.
Mobley sees the team's confidence starting to build thanks to the recent success, but it's been more than the wins that are helping the team.
“It took a lot of me banging my head against the wall in practice,” Mobley said. “I think it took a lot of repition in practice. I had to have them do the same thing every time in practice and make sure they knew my expectations were never going to change.”
That expectation for the Indians (7-11, 2-5 in 15-4A) is actually still the postseason. The team is halfway through district and has just two victories, but also has momentum and is just two games out of the playoff chase with seven games to go.
“What I've told them after the last two wins is that we're mathematically still in it. If we can get five our of the last seven we can go .500 in district,” Mobley said. “We're right in the mix and now these guys believe and they can see it. If we can hold down home court in the second half we have a chance.”
Waxahachie is actually in a four-way tie for fifth place in the district with Mansfield Legacy, Ennis and Red Oak all having two district wins.
The Indians will kick off the second half of district play at 8 p.m. Tuesday at home against Mansfield Summit, which currently holds the No. 4 spot in the district with four wins. A victory there will go a long way towards the Indians making a return to the postseason.
Waxahachie will likely need a crowd of the same fervor it had Friday night against Ennis. The rivalry between the two teams always takes games to another level and Mobley is excited to see the traditional football rivalry transfer to the hardcourt.
“I've heard about the rivalry. In Dallas, we heard about Waxahachie and Ennis,” Mobley said. “Now I'm trying to match the football intensity on the court. The kids were really excited about it.”