Upsetting a one-seed in any tournament is difficult. Upsetting a one-seed after trailing by nine halfway through the third quarter in an area round game that stretches the definition of “area” is another animal.
The Rangers again proved themselves capable of a big second-half rally, outscoring The Woodlands 27-19 in the fourth quarter to complete a comeback from nine points down and advance to the Regional Quarterfinals. Playing in College Station, three times farther from Jesuit as it is from The Woodlands, the Rangers, led by sharpshooter Michael Jankovich ’18 (16 points, 3-4 3PT) and guard Mitch Prendergast ’17 (13 points, 5 assists), put together a team effort to down a formidable Highlanders squad.
The Woodlands took a quick lead in the first quarter, making five of their first six shots and finishing the quarter with an eight-point lead after out-rebounding Jesuit 8-4. The Rangers came roaring back to start the second, though, as three consecutive three pointers, two by Jankovich and one by Jeff Grimes ’17 (10 points, 5 rebounds), swung the lead back to the Rangers. However, they were unable to hold on to a lead going into halftime, as turnovers on three straight possessions allowed The Woodlands to score six unanswered points to take a 28-22 lead going into halftime.
After Marcus Hill ’18 (12 points, 4 rebounds) opened the second half with a three-pointer, The Woodlands went on a 7-1 run to extend the lead to nine, their largest of the game. Jesuit made a run of their own, starting with three free throws converted by Hill before a Reid Hatzmann ’18 (9 points, 3 steals) jumper, another three-pointer by Hill, and layups by Grimes and Jankovich gave the Rangers a 38-37 lead with 2:35 left in the third quarter. Though the Woodlands reclaimed a two-point lead to end the quarter, the fourth quarter would prove decisive.
A steal by Grimes led to a Prendergast three to open the fourth, sparking a 10-0 run that put the Rangers up by eight. The Highlanders cut the deficit to one with 4:29 remaining, and tied the game at 60 with just over two minutes in the game, but missed the free throw that would give them a lead. After a Jankovich free throw gave Jesuit the lead with 1:24 remaining, the Rangers held strong defensively, holding The Woodlands to two points on 1-for-5 shooting for the remainder of the game, while themselves converting 5 of 6 from the free throw line to ice the 70-64 victory.
Hatzmann commented on the team’s victory in enemy territory, saying, “Going into Friday, we wanted to continue the focus on our own team and performing to our best. To do so we tried to remain relaxed and composed which was tougher this time considering the bus ride we had to the game. Despite that, though, we pushed through and came together again as a team and we were able to pull off a major win.”
“I think our biggest focus was just playing the game how we have been all year and not overthinking things,” said Grimes. “We knew the team we were playing against was very good but that we could handle them if we did what we were used to doing, and even though we stumbled a bit in the first half, that’s exactly what we did in the second half and we won the game.”
With the win, Jesuit advances to the Regional Quarterfinals for the first time since 2013 to take on District 11-6A champion Rockwall (22-10), who knocked off South Garland in triple overtime in their Area Round matchup.
“In the last 2 games we have started pretty slowly getting down early in the game,” Hatzmann said. “[Next round] we want to flip that and start fast on Rockwall and get going early. At the same time we want to maintain the composure and confidence we have had in the previous two games. Ultimately, though, we just need to play our own game.”
Head Coach Chris Hill commented that the biggest thing the team could take away from the win is confidence. “I think the guys are clicking in a lot of ways and have won some close games in some tight situations so feeling comfortable and confident in the face of pressure is vital in the playoffs.”
“We really need to carry over our effort and mentality,” said Prendergast. “We need to keep playing with the chip on our shoulder that we have been for the past few games. Both games we have really showed our toughness coming from behind in both, so hopefully we can learn and play with the lead in this game.”