WACO, Texas — Before Friday night, Maypearl had lost only one of their last seven games — one of the best streaks of their 2016-17 season.
Their seventh victory, however, was 10 points out of reach.
The Panthers fell 71-61 to Jarell High School, ranked No. 3 per the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, Friday night at Waco University High School Gymnasium.
They were one of the five remaining Ellis County teams — 5A Midlothian and Waxahachie, 4A Life Waxahachie and Midlothian Heritage and 2A Italy are the others — still in the UIL playoffs.
The loss, as heartbreaking as it was, marked an end of an era for several seniors that saw their season end four games too early. The Panthers can rest a little easier knowing David nearly toppled Goliath — both literally and figuratively.
"We just did not have an answer for [Qyrique Dabon], their 6-foot-7 and 280-pound center in the second half," said Sam Riepe, the head boys' basketball coach at Maypearl High School. "They did a good job of feeding him the ball and he finally started scoring. Other than that, it was just us not executing as well as we could have on the offensive end and not being as aggressive as we should have been pushing the pace of the game. From my perspective, the biggest reason for the loss falls on my shoulders. I didn't figure out a way out to slow down their center fast or often enough."
That's not to say he and his budding Maypearl team didn't topple any historical giants, though. Before seniors Jared Caldwell, Tanir Horton, Joe Jones, Taylor Mease and Brandon Wright carved their path to history with Maypearl, no boys basketball team made it to the second round of the UIL postseason since 2007.
Former Head Coach Jason Lawson, who resigned during the summer, was the first to take the Panthers to the playoffs in four years. The last team to come close was Joel Donaldson's Maypearl team that finished its District 15-2A schedule 9-5 and in fourth place.
"Ten years later, it took a great group of basketball players to achieve the same feat," Riepe continued. "They have no reason to hang their heads especially since they lost to one of the best team's in the state by a mere 10 points and had them on the ropes the entire game. I told them to walk out of the locker room with their chest out and head held high because they represented Maypearl very well not only tonight but also the entire season. It's kind of hard to speak to a room and a bunch of good kids that honestly gave every last bit of themselves for their team and city. It's hard not watching them not hoist the championship every one of them deserves.
"I just told them it has been a pleasure to coach each one of them. To the seniors, thanks for allowing myself and the rest of the coaching staff to coach the best group of seniors I could have asked for my first year as a head basketball coach."
Saying they had Jarrell "on the ropes" may be a bit of an understatement. Maypearl first sprinted to a 22-13 first quarter lead and then weathered back-to-back 14-9 and 17-14 Cougar quarters.
Wright's team-leading 22 points and Horton's 16 helped power the Panthers through the majority of the first half, but it was points from Jake Wiggins (12), Gunner Petty (6) and Tariq Massey (5) that kept Maypearl within earshot of a team heavily favored to claim the 3A title.
The Cougars grabbed their first lead at 44-43 late in the third when Trevor Ledbetter converted a three-point play. Entering the final eight minutes of the area round championship, the Panthers held a one-point lead after Maypearl junior Gunner Petty hit a jumper to give Maypearl a 45-44 edge heading into the fourth.
Spencer, a sophomore point guard, answered by nailing back-to-back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions early in the fourth to put Jarrell ahead 50-47. From that point, the Cougars never trailed again.
It was the first time a team had pushed Head Coach Drew Sumner and Jarrell to the brink of defeat since beating Franklin High School 70-68 on Jan. 14. The last Cougar loss came on Dec. 29 and to undefeated District 7-4A champion Kennedale High School — the same Wildcat team on a 13-game win streak and heading into a regional quarterfinal showdown with Midlothian Heritage.
“(Maypearl) came out on fire, but we battled and battled and battled and finally came back,” Sumner said. “I think we put a little pressure on them when they were trying to hold it together because they were in foul trouble. We’re fortunate. The biggest things for us were Kyle hitting those 3s, Qyrique posting up down low and being strong, A.J. on the steal and Ledbetter powering in a few shots.”
The Maypearl cupboard — even with the loss of five seniors — is not bare. Uber-athletic combo guard Massey, crafty Swiss-Army-Knife point guard Petty, human double-double machine Wiggins, defensive glue-guy Tucker Talley and sharpshooter extraordinaire Garrett Evans will all return for their senior seasons.
The Panthers will also have 6-foot sophomore shot blocker Carson McManus at their disposal.
"Losing this senior class will be difficult to replace but that the growth of this year’s team was huge," Riepe said. "They had to learn playing defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball are the most important aspects of the game. Each and every one of them bought into that concept and because of that, we had a great season. Next year we will have to rely on a few different players to score and step up for the loss of our seniors. Tariq, Gunner and Jake will need to take their game to the next level if we want to make a run like this again next year, but I do feel as though we have the players coming up that can make an immediate impact. I also know the senior leadership has rubbed off on the underclassmen and because of that, we will be a team that will be fighting for a district championship in 2018."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.