WHITESBORO — For the Bearcat seniors it has been a steady ascent to this point.
Their first seasons saw Whitesboro reach the playoffs but get bounced by Van Alstyne in bi-district match-ups both times. Last season they jumped up from third place to district champs, earning a postseason win for the first time in four years but then losing to Edgewood and watched the Bulldogs advance to the region tournament.
With plenty of experience under their belts entering their final seasons, there was reason for Whitesboro to believe it could continue to make progress in the bracket. Not only have the Bearcats done that, they have made history in the process.
“We’ve always talked about it and since it was our senior year, we wanted to go as far as we could,” senior forward Tryson Gaines said.
Right now that means Whitesboro (25-9) will face Troup (29-9) in a Class 3A Region II semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Prosper with a chance to play the Dallas Madison-Jefferson winner for a berth at the state tournament at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Prosper. Madison is the defending 3A champion.
“It feels amazing,” senior forward Andrew Fletcher said. “Our goal last year was to make the region tournament and we bombed out in the second round. The seniors decided we wanted to go out with a bang. It feels great to be here, especially as a senior making a deep run.”
It is believed to be the first time since 1965, when the Bearcats made the state semifinals, that the program reached the fourth round of the postseason. At the very least it ends a known drought that extended into the 1980s. Since 1990 the only times Whitesboro had made it to the region quarterfinals before earlier this week were 2014, 2008 and 1999.
“Very humbling,” said Bearcat head coach Toby Sluder, who is a Whitesboro alum and been a coach in the school district in some capacity for nearly two decades. “I’m glad and happy for these kids.”
It took a 66-59 victory against Van Alstyne, which beat the Bearcats by double digits over the Christmas break in the Allen Tournament, to keep the run going. Gaines had 23 points and 10 rebounds, Fletcher added 11 points and eight rebounds, Montana Morgan scored nine points and Carson Hickman chipped in eight points.
The Bearcats started five seniors against Van Alstyne — Gaines, Cade Acker, Morgan, Fletcher and Hickman — but have had no problem turning to the bench, whether it was senior Hunter Case, juniors Major Ledbetter or Jackson Kupper or sophomore Torran Naglestad.
“We’ve had some kids step up off the bench,” Sluder said. “We’ve been really, really grounded. Talk about selfishness — there’s no selfishness with these kids. There’s no issues. When guys are on the bench they’re cheering for the ones in the game.”
Whitesboro went undefeated in district play to claim a second straight 9-3A title, the first time winning consecutive district crowns since 2013-14, and are 25-1 in 9-3A contests dating back to the 2017-18 season. They had a couple of close calls — a third of their 12 district wins this year were by five points or less — so after blowout victories against Whitewright and A+ Academy to begin the playoffs, the Bearcats weren’t in unfamiliar territory against Van Alstyne, the champions of District 10-3A.
Neither team had a lead bigger than Whitesboro’s final margin of seven points — Whitesboro led by two after the first quarter and the score was tied at 32 at half-time before Van Alstyne took a four-point advantage to the fourth quarter. The Bearcats then held the Panthers to just six points in the final frame, including a scoreless stretch of more than six minutes, to come away with the victory.
Troup is at the region tournament for the second time in three seasons after going 21 years without making it before 2018, when they ended 32-5 and lost against Edgewood in the region semis.
Last year Troup went 22-6 and lost in the area round against Commerce.
The Tigers will be trying to advance to the region final for the first time since 1997.
So far in the playoffs, Troup has had a trio of close contests. The runner-up in District 16-3A behind Arp opened with a 39-37 win over Daingerfield, then beat Commerce, 45-37, and topped Tatum, 55-49, earlier this week to advance.
In the region quarterfinal victory, senior Grayson Driggs and sophomore Bracey Cover each finished with 16 points and senior Kedrick Frazier chipped in 11 points. The Tigers held a one-point lead after three quarters.