LAKE CHARLES – Hicks came into the state semifinals with the perfect gameplan to upend the defending state champions.
However, a fourth-quarter run by Simsboro knocked the Pirates out of the Class B playoffs, 73-69, Wednesday night at Burton Coliseum.
"Overall, it was just a great year for my guys," Hicks head coach Neil Standifer said. "We were glad to be back here. We played our hearts out the whole season, especially to get to this points. We knew coming in what Simsboro had. We faced them last year in this same semifinal game. I thought we came out with a lot of intensity, made plays, got a lead and executed our gameplan exactly how we wanted to."
The Pirates executed its slower-paced offense to keep Simsboro out of transition – its bread and butter.
"It wasn't to fully take the air out of it," Standifer said. "Even though, generally, all season, we like to play a tempo game, but we know how fast they like to play. It wasn't to take the air out of it, but we wanted to slow it down a little bit, which we were able to do."
A layup by Mitchell Kinchen late in the third quarter gave Hicks a 54-40 lead, but the Tigers hit back-to-back 3s to pull within 8 heading into the final quarter.
"I told my guys at halftime that Simsboro is the defending champs for a reason," Standifer said. "I said that they were definitely going to make a run, no doubt, and we have to withstand it. We did for a while, and I feel like we were just hanging out. But, once they got that lead, it made it tough."
Hicks got the lead back to double figures, but Simsboro, once again, went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 5.
The Tigers took the lead for the first time in the game with 1:09 to play, but Austin Merchant tied it up quickly with a pair of free throws.
Merchant had a game-high 21 points.
"I knew my skill level and just tried to go out there and win the game for my team," he said. "I didn't want this to be our last game, so I had to step up and make plays for us. Just came up a little bit short."
Simsboro converted on a layup to take the lead with 35 seconds remaining, and the Pirates could not make up the ground as their season comes to an end with a 38-5 record.
"I'll take the blame for lack of adjustments down the stretch, but I thought my guys played their hearts out," Standifer said. "We did what we could, but they are a very athletic, skill and disciplined team. We gave it our all, but just came up a little bit short."
Trey Norris finished with 20 points and seven rebounds in his first season on the court.
"It's been fun while it lasted," he said. "I wouldn't want to have down it with anyone else. They have been my friends forever."