As if losing to an archrival three times in a row wasn’t motivation enough, Grace Community players had a little extra inspiration leading up to their fourth game of the season against Bishop Gorman.
On Thursday, that little bit extra was enough to finally tip the Cougars past the Crusaders.
“Every single locker had a paper on it, a facebook status one of the Gorman parents posted about how amazing it was to beat Grace (three times),” Grace junior Phillip McKinney said after his team’s 51-42 victory. “We hung that in the gym — that was our inspiration all week and it really helped fire us all up.”
The Cougars’ victory at UT Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center means they’ll return to that gym Saturday to face another rival, All Saints, at 11 a.m. to complete a three-way tiebreaker for seeding in the TAPPS 2-4A tournament.
The loser of that game takes the sixth seed and hosts the seventh-seeded Crusaders on Tuesday. The winner earns the No. 5 seed and hosts No. 8 Dallas Shelton in the first round. The remainder of the tournament will be played at Whitehouse’s Wildcat Arena on Feb. 15-16.
Sophomore Trevor Gunter had game-highs of 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks to lead Grace (13-13). Verlo Levels added 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks while McKinney tallied six points, three assists and two steals.
The Crusaders (14-15) were led by Ben Ashworth’s 17 points and three assists. Sean Goforth scored eight of his 11 in the first quarter and Brandon Lackner added eight boards.
Gorman defeated Grace 58-55 at home on Dec. 15, 78-73 at the Wagstaff Classic on Dec. 28 and 65-51 at Grace Gym on Jan. 26. This time, however, the Crusaders struggled from the field, which Grace coach Neal Welch attributed to his team’s ball pressure.
“We just focused more on defense,” McKinney said. “(We) didn’t worry as much about Ben, more Ben and Sean combined. We just played harder.”
Andrew Melhart drained three 3-pointers for Grace, which was 4 for 12 from long range. Grace made three more field goals that Gorman despite 24 fewer attempts. The Cougars finished 18 of 34 (53 percent) shooting compared to 15 of 58 (26 percent) for Gorman.
“That’s the difference,” said Gorman coach Paul Drake, whose team made 2 of 20 3-pointers. “We couldn’t make shots.”
The Crusaders did force turnovers at a higher rate. They grabbed 13 steals — four apiece from Goforth and Lackner — and forced 22 turnovers while giving the ball away 10 times themselves. However, after getting to the line eight times in the first quarter, they shot six more free throws the rest of the game.
Despite the loss, Drake said he’s looking forward to using Saturday for practice to see if the Crusaders can regain their shooting touch.
“I’m glad (Welch) got that monkey off his back — his first year, he finally got it,” Drake said of his counterpart getting a win in the rivalry. “They’re a good coaching staff and a good team. We’re glad about that.”
As for the Cougars, they hope the breakthrough against one rival helps them get a second win over another. Grace beat All Saints 53-51 on Jan. 19.
“It feels good,” Welch said of the win. “We also know that this is for seeding. It means a lot, but it doesn’t cap off our season. We have All Saints Saturday.
“I think it does give us some momentum.”
TAPPS 2-4A Seeding Playoff
At UT Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center
Grace Community 51, Bishop Gorman 42
Grace 14 13 12 12 — 51
Gorman 17 9 8 8 — 42
GRACE — Verlo Levels, 10; Trevor Gunter, 18; Blake Johnson, 3; Phillip McKinney, 6; Andrew Melhart, 9; Call Florence, 2; Tanner Starr, 3. FG: 18-34. FT: 11-17.
GORMAN — Sean Goforth, 11; Chris Danly, 2; Brandon Lackner, 7; Adam Aucar, 3; Ben Ashworth, 17; Cole Sharron, 2. FG: 15-58. FT: 10-14.
THREE POINT GOALS — GC (4-12): Johnson, Melhart (3). BG (2-20): Goforth, Ashworth.
RECORDS — Grace 13-13; Gorman 14-15.
NEXT UP — Grace vs. All Saints, 11 a.m. Saturday, UT Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center. Bishop Gorman at Grace-All Saints loser, Tuesday.