There was a rhyme to the reason when Welch coach Josh Schertz asked to have his Wildcats placed in the big school bracket in the 65th annual Northeastern A&M High School Basketball Tournament.
“These are the kind of teams we will see in the area,” he said following a 42-39 victory over Miami in a packed NEO Fieldhouse. “We have to thank NEO for moving us up to the big bracket. We didn’t disappoint them.”
The Wildcats finished the round-robin competition with a 2-1 record.
They upset Roland on Thursday then suffered a 32-28 loss to Tulsa Lincoln Christian on Friday.
Roland, the Cats and Lincoln Christian all went 2-1 but Roland’s 55-47 win over Lincoln Saturday night gave the Rangers their second straight NEO title.
It also was the Rangers’ fourth NEO crown in five years.
Welch had hoped to take home a 14th title from the NEO tournament.
Welch led Miami 36-23 with 2:06 left in the third quarter on a bucket from inside by Joey Powers.
But a layup by Tony Rodriguez pulled Miami to within nine going into the final stanza.
The Wardogs kept the pressure up, scoring the first five points of the stanza. a 3-point goal by Rodriguez capped the run and left Welch clinging to a 36-30 advantage.
Jacob Mount hit the second of two free throw chances, but buckets by Rodriguez and Hayden Delano shaved the margin back down to three with 2:19 to play.
A reverse layup on a backdoor cut by Powers was followed by a free throw from Gabe Moore. That created a 40-34 margin with 38.4 ticks remaining.
A layup and a trey by Rodriguez was sandwiched around a pair of Powers’ free throws, creating the final margin.
“We made a few mistakes in the fourth quarter but a lot of that was caused by Miami,” Schertz said. “They put a lot of pressure on us. Their kids played hard.”
Miami’s scoring struggles continued in the first quarter as the Dogs managed only three points on a bucket and free throw by Casey Hunter.
However, the Wardogs came up with 15 points in the second frame, leaving them facing a 24-17 halftime deficit.
The Wildcats held a 12-7 edge in the third quarter.
“I was proud of the boys,” Schertz said. “They’ve been working hard for a long time and it’s paying off.”
Powers finished with 23 points for Welch. He was joined in double figures by Mount with 15.
Rodriguez netted 23 points for the Wardogs, who suffered their 10th consecutive loss.
Hunter, who fouled out late in the game, chipped in with seven points.
Miami travels to Pryor for Verdigris Valley Conference play while Welch faces a key Lucky 7 Conference clash at home with Fairland on Tuesday.