ALEDO, Texas — When the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches No. 4 team Abilene Wiley High School walked into Aledo, it probably didn't envision its season would be over 24 hours later.
Life Waxahachie High School and its Mustangs, however, knew the 54-47 win over the Bulldogs Friday night at Aledo High School Gymnasium was only a matter of time.
"A lot of people probably picked [Abilene] Wylie over us because they're ranked fourth and we are 17th, but our team fought hard and believed that we could win," said senior guard Daniel Nguyen about Life Waxahachie's claim of an area championship. "We want to win it all. That means we have to take it step by step and focus on our next game."
The Mustangs limited Abilene Wylie's high-powered offense to one of its lowest of the season and the lowest since falling to Trinity Christian School 70-42 on Feb 4 and the team to two scoring options. The Bulldogs, which were the District 5-4A No. 1 seed, averaged 66 points per game coming into the contest.
They had scored 70 or more points 17 different times.
Outside of leading scorers senior forward Dion Novil (18 pts) and junior point guard Stephen Lopez (17 pts), Abilene Wylie's 14 other players combined for 12 points. Junior Dylan Isenhower (7 pts) was the highest scoring of that bunch.
The confidence that led Life Waxahachie to outscore a top five state-ranked team 35-16 in the second and third quarters based on fear — a lack of it.
"We knew what we were up against and didn't have any fear going into the game," said junior guard Justin Nimmer. "We haven't forgotten how last season ended, either. Last year's loss just makes us work harder and push ourselves each and every day. We knew they were ranked higher than us, but honestly, we don't really care about the rankings. We believe in ourselves I believe in ourselves and know that we compete against anyone. It's been a team goal to prove everyone wrong because we're extremely underrated and not a lot of people know about us."
And while Abilene Wylie struggled to score in seven- and nine-point quarters, Nimmer, Nguyen, Armani Holmes, Robin White and Joshua Sanders cranked up the scoring more than a few notches and a defense touted as one of the state's best.
"It increased our fire a bunch last year when we got a little taste of what it's like to make a run," Sanders said about the Mustangs' evolution from state champion almost to upset specialist. "At the beginning of the year, it was a goal to prove all of the rankings wrong. Now, getting to the Alamodome is the big goal. It's always back there the thought of just getting a ring and being the first team in school history to do it. There are a lot of teams that want to see us lose but we're not ready to stop playing basketball yet."
While Sanders (16 points) and White (11 pts) battered the Bulldog interior with slick post moves and terrifying drives, Nimmer (14 pts), Nguyen (7 pts) and Holmes (6 pts) challenged the perimeter handing Abilene Wylie the unfortunate duty of taking a beating on two fronts. During the crucial mid-game quarters, each of the five capitalized on at least one opportunity to crack the previously impenetrable armor of a championship-favored team.
Sanders said the greatest benefit to Life Waxahachie, however, may not have been the win, but rather the momentum created by the total team effort.
The Mustangs will need to recall the world-beating performance in the regional quarterfinal round against Wichita Falls Hirschi High School at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Justin Northwest High School. The Huskies, the TABC No. 12 team and the District 6-4A No. 1 seed, beat Mineral Wells and Sweetwater High Schools to reach the third round.
"The best thing from the win was they way everyone gave it up for the team," Sanders said. "Everyone knew we have to do all the little things right to leave here with an area championship and gave it their all and really left it all on the floor tonight. When you're going through the playoffs, I think that's a huge thing for a team to be able to do."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI