BY DENNIS SILVA II | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Before practice on Thursday, Taylor High senior guard Ky Blodget walked up to coach Matthew Brayton and put his arm around him.
The Mustangs’ season was on the brink with a looming District 19-6A playoff play-in game against Katy, and Blodget felt Brayton, who’d lit into his team during a video session following Tuesday’s loss to Katy that forced the do-or-die game, needed reassurance.
“It’ll be different,” Blodget told Brayton. “I promise.”
And then Blodget went out and proved he’s a man of his word, scoring 26 points to go with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in leading Taylor to a demonstrative 85-62 win over Katy at Tompkins High on Friday to hand the Mustangs fourth place in the district and their first playoff appearance since 2015.
“Coach told me, ‘Ky, I want 10 rebounds and as many points as you can get,’” said Blodget, who is at about “85 percent” full health in recovering from a dislocated finger. “He wanted me to play aggressive. I wanted the ball. I wanted to win. I was going to let nothing get in the way.”
The Mustangs, in fact, didn’t let anything get in their way.
Taylor (18-17) scored the game’s first nine points, led 18-6 after the first quarter and 37-17 at halftime in a contest that was never in doubt.
It was a dramatic turnaround from Tuesday, when Katy outplayed Taylor in building a 15-point second-half lead before settling for a 59-54 win that tied the season series to force Friday’s game.
“It was the exact same game plan, but we just came out with more energy,” senior guard Austin Arnold said. “First half on Tuesday, they came right out and punched us in the mouth. We got down big and that was it. But we wanted to show we can play with anybody, and we just wanted to win so badly.”
Brayton said it was a perfect example of the complexity in dealing with teenage athletes.
“Monday’s practice wasn’t very good, and this is what’s hard about high school kids … it’s almost in the back of their minds, like, even if they lost (Tuesday), they still had another game,” Brayton said. “And that’s not what we wanted, because if we win Tuesday, we get third place and not fourth going up against a district champ.
“But this is our team, what we saw tonight. And when we play like that, I like our chances in competing against anybody.”
Arnold scored 15 points to go with five assists. Aidan Walsh added 16 points, including a back-breaking dunk to open the fourth quarter. In all, 10 Mustangs scored.
Taylor made 31 of 42 free throws; Katy made 23 of 33. Taylor made 4 of 10 3-pointers; Katy made 6 of 24.
Five Mustangs scored in double figures compared to two for Katy.
“It was just the factor of playing with nothing to lose,” Arnold said. “We came in Tuesday knowing that even if we lost, we had a game Friday anyway, but tonight it was win or go home. We didn’t want to go home.”
Blodget was the leader on that front. He and Brayton admitted Blodget had “struggled mightily” coming into Friday. Whether it was the hurt and swollen finger or just a lack of aggressiveness, Blodget saw to it that the struggles were put to rest.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder scored 13 points in the third quarter, many of those stifling any semblance of hope for Katy whenever the Tigers seemed to be gaining some sort of traction.
Blodget knew he was the best athlete, if not the best player, on the court Friday. He played like it.
“We’re a different team when he’s on,” Brayton said. “Ky’s been struggling, and he knows that, but what we saw tonight, that’s Ky. I like to joke that he’s not a Taylor athlete, because we’re not gifted with athletes like him at Taylor basketball. He’s different.”
Brayton said his team never thought it wasn’t going to make the playoffs, and that confidence started with his three seniors who’d played on varsity since their sophomore years: Blodget, Arnold and Walsh.
In Brayton’s first five years at the helm of the Mustangs, Taylor made the playoffs three times. But the Mustangs hit a cold spell over the last four years, missing the postseason three straight years before making it this year.
Brayton said the accomplishment is significant, particularly for his subvarsity teams understanding what it takes to make it to the playoffs. All he asked from his team was energy, and it delivered.
“Energy. Energy, energy. It was energy everywhere,” Blodget said. “That’s what we had going for ourselves tonight. Coach told us if we wanted this, it’s here for us. It’s all about who wanted it more. This is amazing, and I’m really happy, and I’m not trying to lose in the first round of the playoffs, either.”