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Cinco Ranch basketball on historic run

February 27, 2017 GMT

The third time was the charm for the Cinco Ranch boys basketball team.

After consecutive area playoff exits, the Cougars finally reached their first regional quarterfinal with an enthralling 66-63 overtime victory against Bellaire in the Region III-6A area playoffs, Feb. 24 at Butler Field House. Cinco Ranch advanced to play District 20-6A champion Bush, with the winner getting Kingwood or Dawson in the regional semifinals at 6 p.m. March 3 at the Berry Center in Cypress.

The Cougars won their third consecutive district championship this season after graduating a skilled senior class. Cinco Ranch took an incredible winning streak and an undefeated 19-6A title into the 2015 postseason, but were upended by Aldine Davis in the area round. The Cougars suffered a similar fate last year, falling 64-61 to Cypress Ranch.

But the current group will be on the court longer than any previous Cinco Ranch squad.

“This is crazy right here,” Cinco Ranch senior Jay Jay Chandler said. “No one expected us to get this far. We’re just proving everybody wrong this year.”

Chandler, a key part of all three district and bi-district championships, delivered another standout performance with 30 points, including seven in overtime.

But the Cougars needed everyone to get past District 18-6A co-champion Bellaire. A team with nine seniors advanced an arching corner shot from sophomore, with Jaron Presley’s three-point basket producing the final margin with 25 seconds remaining.

Senior Levi Tally came up clutch again, making a game-tying three late in regulation three nights after a similar shot helped eliminate Ridge Point, 76-73 in overtime. Seniors Marcus Bardaji and Nick Machado made key defensive contributions, assisting the effort to slow Bellaire guard Max Evans, who still finished with 25 points.

The Cougars led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but sustained every momentum change down the stretch like a group that had been through pressure situations together.

“This team, we’ve been playing with each other or against each other since junior high,” Chandler said. “We’ve got a really close bond. We all play as brothers. We’re just trying to beat everybody. We’re trying to get to state and win the whole thing.”

The Cougars would not have advanced without the inside presence and offensive rebounding of senior Alonzo Sule, who poured in 18 points including a three-point play for a 62-58 lead with 1 minute, 17 seconds remaining.

“That bond helps motivate us to compete every single game,” Sule said. “Whoever we’re playing, we’re going to compete the whole game.”

The pulse-pounding area playoff could have easily been decided differently, as the Cougars have excruciatingly experienced. After edging Strake Jesuit and Tompkins by winning on the final day for the district championship, this postseason has tested their nerves.

But there is no place the Cougars would rather be.

“It’s been really crazy,” Sule said. “We’ve gone to overtime in two playoff games, so we’re just trying to keep our mind focused and play until we can’t play anymore.”