The bigger they are, the louder they fall.
The West Orange-Stark Mustangs navigated their way through some tall timber Tuesday night at Lamar University’s Montagne Center, downing the Cleveland Indians 67-60 in the 3A Region III quarterfinals to punch their ticket to the Region III Tournament in Huntsville Friday night.
The Mustangs (28-8) led by as much as 56-49 with 2:42 remaining but the Indians (30-3) got back to within two at 60-58 with 0:55 left after a layup by guard Deon Baldwin.
However, the Mustangs would not be denied.
Chase Rutledge buried two free throws to make it 62-58 and Laquarious Paige drained 4-out-of-5 from the line in the waning seconds as WO-S held on for the win.
“Our kids really played a tremendous game against a tremendous team tonight,” said Mustang coach Jason Wilkins. “Cleveland is so darn big but the kids didn’t let that stop them in what they wanted to accomplish and they got the job done.”
Paige and Rutledge did a bulk of the scoring for the Mustangs.
Paige torched the Indians for a game-high 25 points and grabbed six rebounds and hit four three-pointers.
Rutledge chimed in with 18 points and teamed up with Paige to make 15-of-19 free-throws.
“Laquarious was so amazing tonight,” said Wilkins. “He hit the open shot and had those two critical three-pointers for us in the fourth. It was so great to see him bounce back tonight with an outing worthy of a senior leader, which is what he’s been all year. Chase got us going early on in the game and buried some big free throws for us late.”
The Mustangs move on to face Navasota in the Regional Tournament Friday at 8 p.m. at Sam Houston State University’s Johnson Coliseum in Huntsville.
Cleveland, which sported 6-7 Cedric Grambell, 6-5 Marcus Keyser and 6-5 Richard Johnson, had problems battling WO-S’ fierce defense throughout.
Gambrell did finish with 13 points and 15 rebounds but fouled out with 1:04 left in the game. Keyser finished with seven points and 11 boards.
The Indians were led by the flashy Baldwin, who finished with 20 points, 16 of them coming in the second half. Johnson had five points and five rebounds.
WO-S only got outrebounded by the taller Indians 40-33. The Mustangs forced the Indians into 21 turnovers while committing just 14.
Mustang post Ty Thompson pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds while Deionte Thompson hauled down six.
The Mustangs got it done at the charity stripe, going a superb 25-of-33 while the Indians went 18-of-27.
“Free throws were huge for us all night but the fourth quarter, it seemed like we drained them all,” said Wilkins. “We knew Cleveland would keep battling and they certainly did that. We’re just so thrilled to be heading to the regional tournament. Hopefully we can keep a great thing going.”
The Mustangs took a 43-39 edge going into the fourth period.
Paige converted back-to-back three-pointers to give WO-S a 49-43 cushion with 5:02 left. Senior guard Brandon Joubert, who had eight points, going a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, buried two to make it 56-49 with 2:42 left.
WO-S took a 26-24 lead into intermission.
The Mustangs led 24-17 at one point but the Indians rallied back to tie it at 24-24 after a three-point play by Gambrell.
However, Gambrell received a technical foul with 0:30 in the half and Paige sank two free-throws to give WO-S the edge.
Paige scored all 10 Mustang points in the period, including hitting two three-point bombs. Gambrell had five in the period for the Indians while Baldwin had four.
The Mustang defense forced the Indians into 13 first-half turnovers while they had just four. Cleveland outrebounded WO-S 22-13 in the half.
The Mustangs trailed 6-5 early in the first but erupted on a 8-0 spurt behind back-to-back three-pointers by Carcisse and a drive by Dorsey Robinson to go up 13-5.
Rutledge fired in eight first-quarter points as WO-S led 16-10 at the end of the period.
Gambrell had four points and six boards for the Indians.
The bigger they are, the louder they fall.
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