Shooting struggles cost Amarillo High in loss to No. 1-ranked Lancaster in state semifinals

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Amarillo High forward Braden Hausen goes up for a shot against Lancaster during a UIL Class 5A state semifinal on Thursday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio. [Robbie Rakestraw/ For Press Pass Sports]
SAN ANTONIO – Anybody watching Amarillo High’s 38 games prior to Thursday’s Class 5A state semifinal knew two things for sure.

This team can play defense and this team can flat-out shoot the ball.

The AHS man-to-man, switching defense was intense Thursday night limiting Lancaster to 13 first-half points, a team which had produced five100-plus point games this year.

Shooting the ball? That was an entirely different story.

Struggling to score points consistently throughout the game, especially from the beyond the 3-point arc finishing a frustrating 1-of-19, Amarillo High’s bid to win the Amarillo ISD’s first boys state basketball championship in 37 years ended in a 44-31 loss to Lancaster before 4,267 fans in the spacious Alamodome.

AHS ends its season at 34-5, a school record for wins in a season.

Lancaster wins its 23rd game in a row improving to 29-5 and will meet Killeen Ellison at 3 p.m. Saturday for the 5A state championship.

AHS veteran coach Jason Pillion, the first boys basketball coach in AISD history taking a team to state three times, said the deciding factor was pretty obvious.

“We did everything you need to do to win a basketball game we just couldn’t make shots,” Pillion said. “And we shot the ball so well all year long. You get in a cavern (like this) and stuff happens. I couldn’t be prouder of how our kids played. They rebounded their tails off. They played great offensively. We just didn’t make shots and sometimes that’s the game of basketball. But the things we had control over we were very impressive.”

AHS produced good looks at the basket against Lancaster’s physical man-to-man defense, yet the numbers were tough to swallow.

The Sandies went 0-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half.

Not until 47 seconds remained in the game did the Sandies make their first – and only –  3-pointer when junior Zach Brown ended the 0-for-15 3-point drought cutting the Lancaster lead to 36-31.

Two minutes and 59 seconds into the third quarter AHS finally reached double digits on the scoreboard at 10 when senior Braden Hausen scored on an inside basket.

The Sandies finished with 12 field goals made, six of those arriving in the fourth period.
Hausen was the lone AHS player reaching doyble figures scoring at 14, with Brown adding nine points. No other player scored more than two points.

Despite the shooting woes, AHS showed grit and did not let that slump carry over to defense or rebounding.

So down 13-8 at half, AHS just knew the second half would be a different story.

“We felt really good at half,” said Hausen, who was three rebounds shy of a double double. “Going in there holding them to 13 points, us not hitting shots. It was kind of like the last game against Chapin when we didn’t hit shots in the first half. We came out the second half and got going but we just couldn’t get shots to fall.”

AHS also dominated a taller Lancaster on the boards throughout at 26-15, led by hustling and aggressive senior guard Davis Sluder with eight.

“We did everything we wanted to do,” Sluder said. “At halftime we talked about how the shots were going to start going. Because every time this year we had a half like that we just busted out in the third quarter and started ripping the nets. Today we made just one three which is never us.”

Amarillo High guard TJ Brown gets a bucket against Lancaster. [Robbie Rakestraw/ For Press Pass Sports]
AHS was never really out of the game until late in part thanks to holding Lancaster scoreless for a stretch of 6 minutes and 29 seconds in the third period.

During Lancaster’s drought, AHS produced an 8-0 run during fueled by Hausen’s inside play and four combined free throws from Hausen and Brown.

When Brown canned two free throws with 74 seconds remaining in the third, AHS was down 18-16 and looking for its first lead of the game.

To Lancaster’s credit it never gave up the lead, inspired by the play of 6-foot-8 Dillon Battie (nephew of Texas Tech great Tony Battie) and canning all 12 free throws it attempted with five different players getting the job done.

All 12 of the Lancaster free throws were made in the second half, eight of them in the final 54 seconds preventing AHS from producing a late comeback.

Battie and guard Deontrell Benntt led Lancaster with 13 points each, while guard Des’Meon Jones added 10. The trio combined to score all but eight of Lancaster’s 44 points and went 8-of-8 from the ljne.

Battie especially hurt AHS scoring nine of his 13 points in the opening 5 ½ minutes of the fourth period, his final basket put the Tigers ahead 32-24 with 2:32 remaining.

“(Battie) is a great player,” Pillion said. “He protects the paint and we couldn’t get easy shots because he’s down there protecting the rim. When we kind of got this thing back he had a couple of and ones down there.”

An eight-point lead on a night like this when the baskets weren’t falling was a rough ask for AHS to erase late.

“It’s tough,” Hausen said. “We try not to be the team that relies on three that if we make shots we win games and we miss shots we lose them. But tonight just we couldn’t get them to fall. I think we made one and I don’t think I even made one.

“They are a good team, though. We knew they were going to guard well and we had to cut. They were grabbing us and fouling us but you have to play through. It was tough. It is what is.”

AHS finished 12-of-34 from field (35.3 percent). Lancaster didn’t exactly shoot lights out going 15-of-34 from the floor (44.1 percent) and making 2-of-14 3-pointers.

Obviously, this one hurt AHS coaches and players because of the way it played out and the final time seven seniors will wear the black and gold.

Pillion said this team will be difficult to ever forget.

“I’m so proud of them,” Pillion said. “A school record for wins. Back to the Final Four. They have meant so much to me and so many people in Amarillo are proud of them. Love them to death.”

Sluder impacted the game in a big way despite taking one shot all game, a desperation shot at the halftime buzzer that came close to being made. He led the way in rebounds with eight and added two assists and two steals while logging 28-plus minutes.

“These seniors on this team are my best friends,” Sluder said. “Every single one of those guys are my brothers. I can’t say enough good things about those guys. I would die for everyone of those guys. I love them.”

For Division I-bound Hausen this is an end of three years on the Sandie varsity and adds his chapter to quite a family legacy of AHS basketball. His mom, Stefanie, played on two AHS girls basketball state championship teams.  His dad, Benji, is the AHS assistant coach. His brother, Brendan, is the all-time leading scorer at AHS and a sophomore playing for Villanova.

“It was my dream to get here (to San Antonio) and I promised Coach (Pillion) I would get him one and I couldn’t,” Hausen said of winning state. “I couldn’t follow up on that. But it’s a dream come true to be here and be able to do it with those guys and this coach.

“My career at Amarillo High means everything. I started out on JV. Then my sophomore year played with my brother and my dad. It’s been the best three years of my life. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

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