BELLS — For different reasons Pottsboro was missing a size advantage it had against many of its opponents this season. The size of the fight in the Cardinals, however, hadn’t changed.
A lineup without its normal post presence found a way to persevere in Pottsboro’s 55-48 victory against Bells in District 11-2A action on Friday night.
The victory clinched a second-straight playoff berth for Pottsboro (13-7, 9-2) and now the Cardinals have their sights on the second seed with an outside chance at a share of the district title. After playing Tom Bean on Tuesday Pottsboro hosts Howe, which is tied with the Cardinals in the standings, on Friday and then closes out the regular season at first-place Whitesboro.
Pottsboro must beat Howe or the Bulldogs will claim second and lock the Cardinals into third place.
“That’s our goal,” Pottsboro head coach Russell Ratliff said. “We’re looking at that re-match with Howe. The kids feel like we gave away that first one.”
A re-match with the Panthers, who fell to 3-8 in district, didn’t have the same look. Justin Lawler was on his official football visit at SMU and fellow forward Charlie Bray was sidelined with a foot injury suffered earlier in the week.
“The first time we played them, Justin and Charlie had 48 percent of our points,” Ratliff said. “We knew coming in it was going to be tough.”
Bells never trailed by more than nine points and was ready to run with the smaller Cardinal unit.
“That was the plan coming in — spread them out,” Ratliff said. “Our guys stepped up. They knew those guys weren’t going to be here.”
Bells overcame a three-point halftime deficit to take a lead in the third quarter before Robby Carter had two straight buckets to pull Pottsboro even going to the final eight minutes.
“The kids know how to battle,” Ratliff said. “You’ve got to have that. To battle back and tie it back at the end of the third was a good sign.”
Pottsboro went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter and was in command. Colt Rutherford and Preston Cook made a pair of free throws, Cook followed with a 3-pointer and then Dallas Sewell, who scored a game-high 22 points, converted underneath for a 53-44 lead with 4:19 remaining. Cook finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
Bells finally got in the scoring column but managed only baskets by Wade Stanley and Hayden Johnson, who had 17 points, in the final stanza while committing seven turnovers during that span. The Panthers had an outside shot at a rally as the Cardinals missed three one-and-ones in the final minute.
Sewell’s 3-pointer late in the first quarter gave the Cardinals an 18-15 advantage before a balanced Bells attack put the Panthers in front. Colton Foster, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds, scored twice during an 8-4 spurt gave Bells a three-point lead with 3:26 remaining in the half. Thomas Slaughter added seven assists for the Panthers.
Caleb Wideman bookended an 8-0 run by the Cardinals that was stymied when Sewell was forced to the bench with three fouls. The Panthers took advantage, cutting into the deficit before Cook’s floater in the closing seconds allowed Pottsboro to take a 32-29 lead into the break.