WICHITA FALLS, Texas - Most holiday hoops tourneys try to save their drama for the finale, so in that regard, the 29th Annual Fantasy of Lights Basketball Tournament set itself apart once again.
Friday’s opening round of one of the largest high school basketball tourney in the nation featured an early-round clash between two defending boys champions – Gold Division winner L.D. Bell (Class 5A) and Silver Division champ No. 11 Burkburnett (Class 3A) – in a Div. I match-up on the Bulldogs’ home floor.
In a game of surges and comebacks, the Raiders staked themselves to an 82-73 advantage with 1:09 left after leading by as much as 11 points earlier in the fourth quarter.
Burkburnett (4-1), which had already erased an eight-point deficit in the third quarter, used a 9-0 run to pull within 82-80 before L.D. Bell’s Baylor Southard (16 points) put the game away from the free throw line allowing the Raiders to escape with an 85-82 victory.
“That was a great game for us,” Burkburnett coach Danny Nix said. “We got down by a little, but the guys didn’t quit in a game against a terrific, quality opponent. If we can play the rest of the game the way we did the last couple of minutes, we’ll be hard to beat.”
Burkburnett’s Derrell Gibbs led all scorers with 23 points while James Faurot topped L.D. Bell with 20 to include three second-chance buckets late in the game.
The Raiders picked up their sixth straight Fantasy of Lights win over Dallas Sunset later in the night to set up their semifinal opposite Mansfield Timberview with a 10 a.m. tip-off at Wichita Falls High School.
In other boys Div. I action, Sunrise (Kan.) got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Leon Cooper to beat Lewisville Hebron, 41-40 at D.L. Ligon Coliseum and stayed on pace to face either L.D. Bell or South Garland in the title game.
No. 25 Hirschi dug itself a 52-36 third quarter hole against Arlington Heights and fell in their second contest of the day, 73-58 to the Yellowjackets. The Huskies, who opened the day with a 44-33 win over Van Alystyne, will try and regroup against Pilot Point in Burkburnett beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, the WFHS Coyotes shook off their 0-3 start with wins over Marble Falls (67-65) and Western Hills (76-72) on Friday and now take on Abilene Cooper at 11:30 a.m. on their home court with a spot in the boys Div. II championship game at stake.
“Getting two wins in a row is big for this team,” Coyotes coach Carl Pennington said. “We’re young, inexperienced and not a lot of people are giving us a chance to win too many games this season.
“We’ve gone back to the fundamentals to try and get better and we feel like we’re improving.”
In girls Div. I action, Rider (6-1) got a game-high 19 points from Samantha Hislop while Lauren Haley (10 points) scored on a 3-pointer with 3:08 left to give the Lady Raiders the lead for good in a 46-38 victory over Sunrise (Kan.).
With the victory, Rider moves into the semifinals and will face the Wichita Falls Lady Coyotes (6-1) at D.L. Ligon Coliseum this morning beginning at 10 a.m.
Defending champion No. 3 Canyon is waiting in the wings after disposing of Dallas Sunset and A.M. Smith by a combined 126 points. The Lady Eagles face Lancaster in the other semifinal.
Iowa Park moved into the Div. II (3A) semis with wins over Commerce and Carrollton Prince of Peace. The Lady Hawks take on Trinity at Hawk Gym beginning at 10 a.m. while district foes Hirschi and Burkburnett each were 1-1 on the day.
Wellington moved into its fifth straight girls Div. III semifinal with two wins on Friday. The Lady Rockets, a three-time champion, improve to 16-2 in Fantasy of Lights play since the 2005 tournament and take on Petersburg at 8:30 a.m.
Wellington defeated the Lady Buffs by 42 points last year.
All told, five of the six champions from last year’s tournament (Boys: L.D. Bell and Calvary Christian; Girls: Canyon, Aubrey and Wellington) still have a chance of repeating coming into today’s action.
Stephen C. Smith Sr. can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/Stephen C. Smith.