SAN ANTONIO — In the end, it was fitting that Alex Dehoyos attacked the basket, drawing a foul that produced the game-winning free throws Sunday afternoon.
Playing in his 114th game for Schreiner University, Dehoyos sealed the program’s first Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in five years and sent the Mountaineers to an unexpected berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.
Now comes the wait for the NCAA to determine where the Mountaineers will head for the tournament’s first round. The 64-team field is selected Monday.
From Jan. 14 through the start of the SCAC tournament, the Mountaineers were losers in six of their last nine games, but there were suggestions that Schreiner could be problematic. And that’s exactly what Colorado College, St. Thomas and Trinity discovered over the last three days.
After being swept by all three during the regular season, the Mountaineers swept past them en route to a 69-67 victory over Trinity in Sunday’s title game — on the Tigers’ home court.
The Mountaineers earned the title with a gutty effort that showed grit and determination, frequently missing during the season’s low points, but one that delivered on the preseason promise of this program.
Statistically, this wasn’t a game for the ages, but it wasn’t dull. It started with Dylan Mackey hitting four consecutive 3-pointers that helped the Mountaineers jump out to a 12-3 lead that quieted the partisan Trinity crowd — the gymnasium was near capacity.
The Mountaineers’ three-headed backcourt of Mackey, Dehoyos and Beau Cervantes kept Schreiner level-headed and moving forward. Mackey finished with 17, Cervantes 11 and Dehoyos with 8. Dehoyos also played the game with the borrowed shoes of teammate Joshua Alcoer. In the first half, Dehoyos left shoe blew out and that led to a scramble to find a match on the team.
And in the second half, Trinity surged into its first lead; it looked like the Mountaineers would break, but the Tigers could never mount a sustained run. Even with some breaks, the Tigers had troubles with fouls, leading to the surprise performance of Cristian Rodriguez, who dominated the inside in the closing moments with 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting.
Kamden Ross, who earned tournament MVP honors, scored seven points but had 15 rebounds and altered shots inside with five blocks. Despite being outmatched again in terms of length, the Mountaineers used Ross, Rodriguez, Darian Gibson and Bronson Evans used their athleticism to outperform the Trinity bigs.
With 18:38 left in the game, Trinity grabbed its first lead — one it would hold for 11 minutes — but the Tigers could never separate from the pesky Mountaineers. At 7:37 left in the game, Cervantes hit a 3-pointer that put the Mountaineers in the lead for good.
The Mountaineers would not break against the Tigers despite Trinity’s best efforts. Every time the Tigers would respond, Ross and Rodriguez would answer.
And it was Dehoyos’ final attack that placed an exclamation point on a redeemed season. After two free throws and a defensive stand that resulted in a missed Trinity shot as time expired, the Mountaineers had a wild celebration heartily cheered by dozens of Schreiner fans, faculty and board members.