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Slidell joins ’43-44 team, advances to state semifinal

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, March 6, 2019
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Twice as nice 02

TWICE AS NICE – Slidell Greyhounds celebrate region championships Saturday. Messenger photo by Mack Thweatt

Banners and boards from the last time the Greyhounds won a state title still hang in the old rock gym in Slidell.

Since 1944, the Greyhounds have tried but have never been able to reach the state semifinal. That changed Saturday.

After beating two-time defending Class A champion Lipan to claim the Region III crown, the Greyhounds are now two wins from their first championship in 75 years.

Slidell will play Oakwood in the Class A semifinal at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

“If you’ve ever watched the movie Hoosiers, you have been to Slidell,” said Duaine Pruett, whose father, Edwin, was on the 1943-1944 state championship team. “Just like in the movie when one of the kids said, ‘Let’s win it for all the small schools that have never been here.’ I feel the same way.”

Duaine played at Slidell from 1963-1967. In 1963-64, the Greyhounds fell in the region final to Celeste, coming up one win shy of reaching the state tournament.

His teammate, Butch Pruett, was a senior on that region finalist team. Butch is the grandfather of the Greyhounds’ 6-6 post Slayton Pruett.

Championship feeling

CHAMPIONSHIP FEELING – Slidell’s Slayton Pruett cuts down the net at Mansfield High School after the Greyhounds beat Lipan 44-38 in the Class A Region III final. Messenger photo by Mack Thweatt

“Especially with my grandson on the team, it’s pretty special,” Butch said. “Slidell has always been a basketball community. We’ve never really had any other sport. Usually whenever it’s an out-of-town game, the town is practically deserted.

“We’re very proud of what they’ve done.”

Slidell (31-8) has been ranked in the top 10 of the Class A Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll for most of the year.

The Greyhounds had lost in the third round of the playoffs the last two years, but got over the hump with a 44-42 win over Saltillo in the region quarterfinal. Slidell then knocked off Eula and the heavyweight Indians to reach the state tournament.

“It’s no small feat,” said Slidell coach Casey Pierce. “Some of the iconic teams [we had to beat] like Lipan, Graford and Eula – there were some things aside from playing good basketball that we had to fend off. There’s a lot of history here. To some degree, to be a part of a revival, we’ve been good the past six or seven years, but haven’t had the playoff success some of the other teams in this region have.”

Slayton said friends, family and community members alike have congratulated the team on their historic accomplishment.

Team win

TEAM WIN – Slidell players celebrate and hoist the Class A Region III trophy moments after beating Lipan in the region final. Messenger photo by Mack Thweatt

“It’s kind of crazy,” Slayton said. “We’ve had a bunch of people come up and tell us that we’ve done something [Slidell] has been trying to do for years. It’s been a community goal. I’ve dreamed about this for a long time. Ever since I was little, me and the Vanover brothers [Brady and Easton] would sit around and talk about [going to state]. It means a lot.”

Easton’s heroics in the region quarterfinal helped Slidell escape another third-round exit. With under a second remaining and the Greyhounds trailing by one, Easton was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and knocked down all three free throws.

“We’ve worked really hard all season for it,” Easton said. “I think we deserve it. I want to thank everyone for their support. Let’s go get a ring.”

Proud family

PROUD FAMILY – Slidell coach Casey Pierce celebrates the Class A Region III championship with his wife, Terri, and two sons. Messenger photo by Mack Thweatt

In the region final against Lipan, it was Brock Harwell’s shooting from the outside that made the difference down the stretch. Harwell drilled a 3-pointer with under a minute left to push Slidell’s lead to six, 41-35. The sophomore finished with 11 points.

“It’s cool to be a part of something like this – to be the first ones in a long time to go to state,” Harwell said. “Coach said it’s going to mean a lot more to us when we get older. All my family told me to cherish these memories.”

Pierce now gets the opportunity to add to his state championship trophy collection. Pierce, who is in his second season as the Greyhounds’ head coach, was a member of the 1996 and 1998 2A title teams at neighboring Krum.

He admitted emotions got the better of him after Slidell’s thrilling victory in the region final.

“I tried to spit and cry out a couple of words after the game about the historical significance,” Pierce said. “It wasn’t my finest ‘Get one for the Gipper’ speeches. I was OK for a majority of the time. But when it died down and we got back in the locker room, trying to talk about the game got me choked up quite a bit.

“This doesn’t fall lightly on me. I feel fortunate. The reality is most coaches go their entire career and never get this opportunity. This gives us a chance to mark our program on the state stage.”

As Duaine reminisced on his playing days, he recalled vividly the loss that left the Greyhounds out of the state tournament in 1964.

He may not have gotten to experience a state championship, but Duaine said he intends on making the trip to San Antonio to watch the Greyhounds try to do something they have not done since his father was on the team.

“I didn’t win it, but there’s a Pruett on the team and Slidell is going,” Duaine said. “It’s the same as me going. I’m living vicariously through them.”

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