POTTSBORO — In a race which could come right down to the end, it’s the end of games like this that could be the ultimate factor in who ends up advancing to the playoffs and who stays home.
Needing to even the season series with a victory on the road, the Gunter Tigers led for the final three quarters but the Pottsboro Cardinals were down by a single possession for the last three-and-half minutes and in prime position to steal a win before Gunter held on for a 39-37 victory over Pottsboro in District 11-3A action.
“I’m proud of my kids. It was one of those games where nobody got comfortable,” Tigers head coach Seth Vansell said. “We have a young group that is still meshing, figuring it out on the fly. I think that youthfulness is starting to mature and they didn’t let one quarter be the deciding factor.”
Brady Harris had 11 points, six rebounds and four steals, Kenny Burkholder added 10 points and six steals and Brock Boddie chipped in seven points and four rebounds for Gunter (19-8, 4-5), which hosts Howe on Tuesday night.
Cooper Dorris had 13 points and nine rebounds and Piercen Reid chipped in 11 points for Pottsboro (15-13, 4-5), which travels to Bonham on Tuesday.
Heading into the final five games of the season, the Tigers and Cardinals find themselves in a heated battle for a playoff spot. Both are tied with each other for fifth place but also just a game behind the third-place tie between Howe and Blue Ridge. And on all but the last night of the regular season, two of the four will be facing off.
Gunter was able to pull out the victory despite a scoring drought which covered the first six-plus minutes of the fourth quarter. The Tigers entered the stanza with a 10-point advantage and milked almost all of it to where Pottsboro got within a point twice, the latter coming with 46 seconds remaining when Dorris hit two free throws.
In the next 38 seconds each team committed a pair of turnovers — Gunter costing itself the chance to extend a 38-37 lead and Pottsboro unable to have an opportunity to jump in front. The Cardinals’ last possession ended with 8.6 seconds on the clock. Forced to foul but nowhere near the bonus to send Gunter to the line, Pottsboro drew four whistles to reach that point, leaving just 0.8 seconds left.
Harris hit his first free throw, intentionally missed the second and came away with the rebound as Gunter escaped with the victory.
“You’ve got to find a way to play your game and take care of the basketball and I think we were more worried about taking care of the ball than trying to score,” Vansell said. “The idea was to take great shots. We were taking good ones and weren’t making them like we were earlier. And you can’t have that many turnovers. That’s something we’ll keep working on.”
The Cardinals had put themselves in position to win by starting the fourth with a 9-0 run. Dorris converted a three-point play and Reid chipped in four points, including a jumper with 2:33 remaining to make it a 36-35 contest. Harris’ putback with 1:47 left were the first Gunter points in the quarter and provided just enough cushion down the stretch despite several tense moments.
The Tigers opened the third quarter with nine straight points as their lead ballooned to 11. Boddie started the run with a three and scored after a steal — he added another such sequence after Pottsboro got in the board with a three-pointer from Travis Teague.
Gunter’s largest lead came when Kenny Burkholder scored with 1:12 remaining in the third to make it 36-23.
Reid hit a three-pointer in the final minute as Pottsboro trailed by 10 heading to the final quarter.
Pottsboro suffered through offensive struggles in the second quarter that mirrored what Gunter dealt with in the opening eight minutes.
Aaron Massie’s jumper at the 5:36 mark provided the only points for the home team in more than seven minutes before Dorris scored underneath late in the half.
In between the Tigers went on a 9-0 burst that included Harris three-pointers sandwiched around a Kaiden Pines layup as Gunter went in front for the first time at 15-14.
Kenny Burkholder’s drive with 18 seconds to go in the frame sent the Tigers into the locker room with an 18-16 advantage.
Gunter fell behind 12-2 as the Tigers managed just a basket by Pines in the first seven minutes.
The Cardinals got three buckets from Dorris and consecutive three-pointers by Connor Hosch and Braden Driggs to build a double-digit advantage that was trimmed to 12-5 at the end of the quarter.
This article originally appeared on Herald Democrat: Tigers hang on against the Cardinals in District 11-3A play