WAXAHACHIE — In the end, the Wolves were one scorer short of an upset victory over the Tribe's top-ranked boys' basketball team.
The latter is now state-ranked and the champion of District 10-5A.
Waxahachie beat Mansfield Timberview High School 54-52 on Tuesday at George W. Solis Gymnasium, sealing both a series sweep of the second place Wolves and clinching its first title in a decade.
"It feels awesome to go to the playoffs. I can't even tell you what's going through my head right now. I'm excited," said Mar'Quaylen Grant, a junior guard and first-year varsity starter that was one of four players to score in double figures during the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches top-10 showdown. "We just won district for the first time in a long time and I'm glad I got to do it with my brothers. Since we blew out Timberview the first time, I knew we could do something special. Now that we beat them in a close game — we couldn't do it without our hyped student section keeping us energized — we know it. [The district championship] just shows all our hard work is paying off."
To find the last district champion, you'd have to go back at least three coaches — past Damien Mobley and Steve Weeks and stop at TABC Hall of Famer Lonnie Gaylor.
Senior Xavier Thompson II played under two of the three and was one of the survivors — with junior Larry Wise and fellow senior Corey Walker Jr. — of the fallout that sent Mobley to Odessa, Texas and brought hometown hero Greg Gober back into Waxahachie's fold as the new head coach.
He also saw Lancaster High School win three consecutive district championships and go on to win back-to-back 5A state titles.
"We all believed in each other, had a fresh mindset going into the season and bought into what coach was trying to teach us," Thompson II said about the Runnin' Indian brotherhood's braving of the pre-season adversity. "To be where we are now, with the group we have now, feels great. We weren't bad my first two years here, but we weren't where we needed to be. We had a lot of talent, but this year we play hard from end line to end line and for 110 percent of the game. We're not a team, either. We're a brotherhood.
"We're close on and off the court and it shows up during games. We all have the same goal and dream and know what we need to do to get it. We're going to keep working ant try to win a state championship."
The 2006-07 Runnin' Indians won the District 15-4A Championship with Gaylor at the helm and four-year starter and two-year All-Region Defensive Player of the Year Gary Mason Jr. as one of the team's stars.
Waxahachie won district championships in the 2003-04 and 2002-03 (Co-Champions), as well as during the 1998-99 and 1997-98 seasons. The run through District 10-4A with former Seattle Supersonic and NBA Slam Dunk Champion Desmond Mason in 1998 was the last time the Runnin' Indians fielded an undefeated varsity team.
And if the Runnin' Indians were to return the Texas 5A classification's most sought after prize to Waxahachie, they would be the first boys' team in the city to do it in 34 years.
Gober's preached taking games in steps all season and sweeping Mansfield Timberview may have been one of the most important ones.
The second rendition of the matchup — the first was a 33-point Runnin' Indian blowout on Jan. 13 — pitted TABC No. 3 Waxahachie against No. 9 Mansfield Timberview. After the dust had settled on Tuesday night's first eight minutes, it seemed that the second game might mirror the first.
That line of thinking couldn't have been more wrong.
Despite the slow 13-7 first quarter start and a nine-point halftime Wolf deficit, Mansfield Timberview stormed back into the game with the help of Tim Johnson (14 pts), Isaac Likele (13 pts) and Chris Mullins (10 pts). The trio combined for 24 of the Wolves' 32 points in the final 16 minutes — including a 22-point fourth quarter.
Outside of the 33 percent shooting performance Mansfield Timberview produced in the first quarter, it finished with 62, 100 and 60 percent shooting in the second, third and fourth quarters., It wasn't enough to topple a team MaxPreps deemed as the 14th best team in the state regardless of classification, though.
"It was a tremendous achievement for the mental side of the game of basketball," Gober said. "People sometimes forget how hard the metal side is and how important it is to fight through adversity without making excuses. 'Destroying excuses' has been our mantra all season and they did that tonight."
While the Wolves' boasted three double-figure scorers, Waxahachie countered that number and bettered it by nearly two.
In addition to posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, Waxahachie controlled the offensive and defensive glass with a 20-18 rebound advantage. Wise (13 pts, 4 rebs, 1 blk), Thompson II (11 pts, 2 blks), Grant (10 pts, 4 rebs, 2 stls) and Montre Gipson (11 pts, 4 rebs, 2 stls) helped pull the Runnin' Indians even.
Jaylen Warren, who scored nine points and pulled down a team-high five rebounds, broke the deadlock.
With 6:05 left in the fourth quarter, Likele and Mullins led a 12-6 run and tied the game at 49, but 5-for-6 shooting from the free throw line from Warren and Wise regained the lead and sealed a No. 1 district finish for Waxahachie.
Gober, who won his first district title in Waxahachie as a head coach in the presence of an assistant coach that helped lead him to a state championship in 1983, said there's no resting on laurels for the Runnin' Indians.
"It's not going to help you win another district championship but, in reality, the next game's just as important," he said. "We're going to get a chance to play some kids that really need to play and get better, but we're still going at it full speed. That's our goal, to be the best we can, see where it gets us and play hard and fast and have fun. We have a long way to go and a lot of games to play and every one of them counts. It can become sudden death quickly."
Waxahachie has two games remaining on its regular season schedule — beginning with the 8 p.m. Friday matchup with defending 5A champion Lancaster at George W. Solis Gymnasium and ending with Tuesday's district finale against Mike Adewunmi and Mansfield Lake Ridge High School at MLRHS Gymnasium.
Lancaster is one game ahead of fourth place Midlothian High School in the District 10-5A standings. They will face the Runnin' Indians and the Panthers before the end of the season and would enter the UIL postseason 7-7 and on a losing streak less than one year removed from hoisting a state championship with back-to-back losses to the Ellis County teams.