KINGSVILLE - The Tuloso-Midway Warriors didn't look like playoff contenders before the district season, but they proved they belong after their 53-49 bi-district win Feb. 19 against the Veterans Memorial Patriots.
"I didn't't think we played well, but neither did they," said Tuloso-Midway head coach Bobby Craig. "This is the worst we have been in the last 26 years. All season we couldn't beat anybody and we come here and beat a good team."
Senior guard Phillip Belford led the way with 28 points, including a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point land.
"These last few years, we kept getting eliminated at bi-district, and we had to get that out of our heads and rise above it," Belford said. "Having a win tonight is going to keep our mentality up."
"It was Phillip's time tonight," Craig said. "In a few more years, it will be [Veterans Memorial's] time."
With the Warriors up 40-31 after the third quarter, the Patriots began to put in their best effort with a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
Veterans Memorial and Tuloso-Midway were deadlocked, but it did not last long as Belford found an open shot for three points.
Still a close game with the Warriors up 45-43, Belford was fouled at the 3-point line with a chance to pull away.
He missed two of his three free throw shots, keeping it a one-possession game.
"All of those nerves just built up in my mind," Belford said. "I just needed to relax, take a deep breath and take it one shot at a time."
Hanging on to a small 46-45 lead, Tuloso-Midway's Matt Willoughby took to the free throw line. After missing both shots, the Patriots were still in it with less than 2:30 left in the game.
During the Veterans Memorial possession, Warrior Alex Benavides was called for a blocking foul, putting Ben Gonzalez on the line for the Patriots.
After making both shots, Veterans Memorial took its first lead of the game with 1:50 left to play. Gonzalez finished the game with 12 points and five steals.
"I think he was a gifted player," Craig said. "But [Belford] was pretty tough."
Benavides made up for his foul as time was running out for Tuloso-Midway. Grant Wilson passed the ball to Benavides for three points, putting the Warriors ahead, 49-47, sealing the victory.
Tuloso-Midway began the game on a 14-2 run, before the Patriots began to close the gap on an 8-0 run to come within four points.
The defense from Veterans Memorial began to affect the Warriors as Belford had trouble in-bounding the ball, forcing him to call a timeout twice.
Tuloso-Midway also ran into foul trouble in the second quarter, but the Patriots failed to take advantage at the free-throw line, shooting 1-for-4 in the quarter.
With time running out in the first half, the Warriors were up by seven. Belford shot another 3-pointer as the clock hit zero, putting Tuloso-Midway up by 10 at halftime.
In the Area round Friday, the Warriors lost a close one to the South San Antonio Bobcats, 52-46.
Belford had 22 points in his final game with Tuloso-Midway.