The Sands Mustangs and Grady Wildcats have played plenty of big games over the years, but none will be bigger than Saturday's basketball contest between the two schools.
The Mustangs and Wildcats were scheduled to play at 2 p.m. Saturday in the championship game of the Region I-1A Div. II Tournament at South Plains College in Levelland. And the stakes — a spot in the state basketball tournament for the winner — couldn't be bigger.
The longtime district rivals set up the high-stakes showdown with convincing semifinal wins Friday — Grady stormed past Nazareth 7-50, while Sands dominated Texline, 68-38.
A third area team wasn't as fortunate in regional action Friday as the Garden City Bearkats lost to Graford in the semifinals of the Region II-1A Div. II tournament in Abilene.
Grady and Sands have met twice already this season, with Grady taking both contests — 59-49 Dec. 20 in Lenorah and 52-50 Jan. 24 in Ackerly.
The Mustangs (28-7) earned their spot in the regional final with a dominating performance against Texline, while Grady (29-5) was equally impressive in downing traditional Class 1A power Nazareth.
The Wildcats used defensive pressure to key the win, forcing 25 Nazareth turnovers. That pressure allowed Grady to take a 32-23 lead at halftime, and the Swifts never seriously threatened after that.
As they have all season, the senior duo of Zeke Clay and Branson Richards led Grady Friday — Clay scored 22 points, while Richards added 17.
In Abilene, Garden City raced to an early advantage, but a cold third quarter doomed their chances at making the state tournament.
The Bearkats, who finished their season with a 23-12 record, led 26-22 at halftime, but scored only three five points in the decisive third quarter. Graford, meanwhile, took the lead for good with a little more than three minutes remaining in the third and gradually pulled away from Garden City for the win.
Corbin Davis scored 11 points and Michael Lopez added 10 to lead the Bearkats.
Graford (26-8) faced Lipan for the regional championship Saturday afternoon.