BY DENNIS SILVA II | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
During the fourth quarter of a close game Tuesday evening, a win-or-go-home contest for Katy High in the District 19-6A regular season finale, Justus Mouton could not have been calmer.
Whenever Taylor, which had impressively rallied from a 15-point third quarter deficit to force a 43-all tie with 5:12 left, threatened, the senior guard took control, finishing what teammate Chermane Sims had started.
Mouton scored 14 of his 19 points in the final period as Katy outlasted Taylor 59-54 at Taylor High, forcing a three-way tie along with Mayde Creek as all three teams finished 5-7 in 19-6A. Because of tiebreaker rules, Mayde Creek advances to the playoffs and will be the third seed. Katy and Taylor, which split the district season series, will partake in a playoff play-in game for District 19-6A’s final playoff spot later this week at a time and place to be determined.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could do to get the win for my team,” Mouton said. “People stepped up. I was just trying to do my part.”
Mouton scored a pair of lay-ins and hit all 10 of his free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter as Katy (13-19) rarely granted Taylor (17-17) a defensive stop when it mattered most.
The Tigers jumped out to a 27-20 halftime lead and pushed that edge to 35-20 not long into the third quarter. Sims caught fire early and often, scoring all of his 19 points in the first three quarters on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
“Taylor’s a team that leaves you little room for error, and our mindset had to be right,” Sims said. “I felt like we were all locked in. We knew it was win or go home for us, and that was really all the motivation we needed.”
When Katy reached its 15-point lead not even two minutes into the second half, Taylor coach Matthew Brayton pulled all five of his starters and went to his bench. It worked masterfully, as C.J. Tolbert, Jake Arnold and Co. ignited an 18-3 run to close the third quarter and force a 38-all tie going into the fourth.
“If you’re not playing with a sense of urgency in a game like this, then I don’t think you’ve got it in you,” Katy coach Danny Russell said. “I definitely think the kids’ preparation in practice this week and our focus led to that big lead, without a doubt. We executed everything we wanted to execute. Then you saw that sense of urgency in Taylor, especially when the bench came in, and you have to give a lot of credit to their reserves. I think you saw two teams that wanted it, no doubt. There was a lot of urgency on the court.”
The game was tied at 43 with a little more than five minutes left, and that’s when Mouton took over.
Tolbert (11 points, all in the second half) and Austin Arnold (12 points) contributed big plays to keep the Mustangs close, but, as Katy eventually solved Taylor’s press defense that was introduced in the third quarter, Mouton either dropped in easy shots at the rim or was fouled and capitalized on free throws.
In all, Katy shot 16 free throws in the fourth quarter, making 15, and shot one 3-pointer. Taylor went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the period and missed five of six 3-point attempts.
“We didn’t want to go home,” Mouton said. “We did what we had to do. I’m proud of my boys. This season has been up and down, but I feel like every game we got better. The team’s really grown this season, and I’m at a loss for words right now.”
It has been a resilient season for Katy, which had two starters and a key reserve depart the program during the offseason. But through the leadership of seniors like Mouton and Steven Fontenette, and the growth and maturity of young talents like Sims and junior forward Casper Belaiter, the Tigers have put themselves in a position to make the playoffs, a goal that eluded them last season.
“I want to focus on our kids that spent the summer with us, that trained and endured the weight room and heat and strength and conditioning and spent time in the gym,” Russell said. “There wasn’t a lot of people that expected to see us in this position outside of us, but there’s not a kid in that locker room that’s surprised.
“We’re frustrated with ourselves; we would’ve liked to have been the third seed. But we have some tremendous players that a lot of people didn’t know about that they know about them now.”