FORT WORTH — They twisted in limbo too long, fought too hard to keep the chance to play, to lose this game.
So the Robert M. Beren Academy Stars left no doubt. The small Houston Orthodox Jewish day school rolled through the state semifinal it needed a lawsuit to get to play in, beating Dallas Covenant 58-46 Friday afternoon at Fort Worth's Nolan Catholic High School. And now the hoops dream that fueled the players to stick up for their religious beliefs is so close.
One game away. Thirty two minutes from a state title.
Beren will play in the TAPPS 2A state championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday night. The Stars will take on Abilene Christian back at Nolan. If Beren wins, it will receive the big trophy from TAPPS director Edd Burleson, the face of an organization that fought to keep the Stars from ever playing in the game.
"The kids just want to play basketball and stay true to their faith," Beren coach Chris Cole said. "What we're trying to do is compete with honor. That's the slogan in TAPPS."
If Beren wins, it will receive the big trophy from TAPPS director Edd Burleson, the face of an organization that fought to keep the Stars from ever playing in the game.
And after coach Cole's team took apart a Covenant squad playing close to home in the wake of enduring a roller coaster week of doubt, there is little doubt that goal's in sight. Beren built as much as an 18-point lead and held a double-digit advantage throughout the second half.
"When you've been through adversity it pays off," Beren guard Isaac Buchine said. When you've spent much of the week being told you're not going to get to play the game, another group of high schoolers doesn't seem like such an obstacle. Covenant is a good 23-10 team.
Beren never gave it much of a chance.
When point guard Isaac Mirwis (14 points) dribbled out the final seconds, the crowd on the Beren side of the gym roared in approval. Even with less than 20 hours notice on the time of the game, Beren brought a crowd of well over a 100 strong from Houston. When your entire school has an enrollment of 271 total students (Pre-K through high school) that's pretty impressive.
Most teams at this 2A level don't have a player who can match up with a 6-foot-5 skilled forward like Zachary Yoshor. Yoshor put 40 points up in the quarterfinals for Beren and he added 24 points and 11 rebounds in the semis Friday.
Most teams aren't playing for such a large cause either.
The only adversity for Beren now is the kind it's creating for other teams with its play.
Beren didn't set out to do that of course. These players never expected to have to stand up for the Sabbath. But when the TAPPS denied multiple appeals to reschedule this game so the Stars could observe the Sabbath, that's the position Beren finds itself in.
With victory in hand, Beren would go back to its hotel to observe the Sabbath. Cole's team will not do any physical activity from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, when they'll leave the hotel for the 8 p.m. state title game. The coach, who isn't Jewish himself, was at a gym Friday night scouting Abilene in its semifinal win while his players rested back at the hotel.
Beren Academy found out it would be allowed to play after all late Thursday morning. Cole's team held the first basketball press conference in school history, its first real full practice since the scheduling controversy started and set off for Dallas well after 6 p.m., with a 2 p.m. game the next day looming.
There are quick turnarounds and then there's this.
The Stars love to play fast though. Cole's team hit Covenant with a full-court press whenever it could, creating turnovers and speeding up the game. If anyone doesn't mind a frenetic pace, it's this group of kids from the small school (67 total high school students) on the edge of Meyerland.
Yoshor scored 14 of Beren's first 20 and 19 of its first 25 points. But it was Buchine's steal and fall away 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that delivered a real crushing blow to Covenant. The Stars would go into the break with a 12-point lead.
That sequence is typical of this team. Yoshor might be the engine driving things, but he gets plenty of help from a rotating cast of heroes that keep stepping up.
"It truly is a real team effort with these guys," Beren Academy vice president Rick Guttman said.
One that is leaving opponents and TAPPS flat footed. The only adversity for Beren now is the kind it's creating for other teams with its play.