Before the championship game of the 52nd annual FiberMax Caprock Classic, Lubbock Estacado basketball coach Tony Wagner admitted to being in search of respect for his team.
Wagner's team is currently ranked No. 1 in the state in the TABC/Tex Preps Basketball Magazine poll. Every team in every classification in Texas recognizes Estacado's talent. Wagner defined his search, however, with one word.
"National," he said, referring to recognition as one of the nation's best rather than just the state's best.
Estacado jumped one step closer to that status on Thursday, as the Matadors beat Texas' top-ranked private school Houston Westbury Christian, 55-51, in the Blue Division championship game at Lubbock Christian University's Rip Griffin Center. The game, viewed by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 2,000, featured two defending state champions. Estacado won the UIL 3A title, and Westbury Christian took the TAPPS 4A title last season.
Estacado (18-1) claimed its first Caprock championship since 2006. It captured the title with big free throws down the stretch. Ryhiem Hunter made two free throws with 41 seconds left to play to put the Matadors up by three. Clarence Willard, a player who Wagner considers one of the most underrated 2011s in the state, added a free throw with 13 seconds remaining.
"They've competed on a state level and played in front of big crowds a lot of times now," Wagner told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "I was happy to see them respond the way they did."
Westbury Christian (18-1) jumped out to a 19-12 edge in the first quarter, but Estacado battled back in the second quarter to take a 26-23 halftime lead, holding the Wildcats to only one field goal in the quarter. Estacado fought back a second time in the third quarter after trailing six, using a 9-0 run in the quarter.
Willard finished with 19 points and made four 3-pointers, and Kevin Wagner, a Texas Tech signee, added 14 for Estacado, which hasn't lost since Nov. 27, when it fell to Garland Lakeview Centennial in the finals of the 30th annual Fantasy of Lights Tournament in Wichita Falls.
Delvin Dickerson had 18 points and made 6 of 7 free throws for Westbury Christian, which made news a couple weeks ago by becoming the first Texas team in two years to beat state-power and two-time defending UIL Class 4A champion Houston Yates. Tyler Guidry (12 points) and Anthony Collins (11) also finished in double figures in scoring.