FORT WORTH, Texas -- An inspired comeback in the fourth quarter fell short Saturday night and a state title eluded the Orthodox Jewish high school basketball team from Houston the almost didn't get the chance to play in its state semifinal game.
Robert M. Beren Academy closed a 12-point deficit to two in the final minute, but could get no closer in a 46-42 loss to Abilene Christian in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools' Class 2A championship game at Nolan Catholic High School.
Senior guard Isaac Mirwas led the charge with 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 15-foot jumper with 16 seconds left to trim the Abilene Christian lead to 44-42.
Two free throws by Abilene Christian's Daniel Austin with nine seconds remaining clinched victory and ended an unforgettable week of ups and downs for Beren.
"These are tears of happiness and sadness," said Mirwas afterward. "I'm happy that we got the chance and that I was able to stay true to myself and my beliefs. I'm happy TAPPS gave us the chance. It was a tough loss, but Abilene Christian was a heck of a team."
Beren had reason to doubt it would get the opportunity because both the semifinal and final were scheduled to fall within the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Beren's appeals to change game times on Monday and Wednesday were turned down.
TAPPS relented on Thursday when it learned a group of parents from Beren were taking the matter to court. Site and game times were changed to accommodate.
"All we asked for was a chance and we got it," said Beren coach Chris Cole afterward. "Hats off to Abilene Christian. I'm proud of the way my guys handled everything all week. I think we showed we deserved to be here."
Beren (24-6) appeared to have trouble with Abilene Christian's defensive quickness and led for the last time at the six-minute mark of the second quarter.
"We missed some open looks, but those were few and far between," said Cole. "Their quickness had us playing in a hurry. We were rushing to get our shots."
Abilene Christian kept tight defensive pressure on 6-foot-5 junior post Zach Yoshor, who scored 24 in Friday's 58-46 semifinal victory over Dallas Covenant. Yoshor was limited to 15 points in the title game.
"They made it difficult for Zach and he had to work harder than normal," Cole said.
The coach pointed to Abilene Christian's 8-0 run early in the third quarter as particularly damaging.
"But our guys climbed the mountain and kept fighting," he said. "I love every single one of those guys. I'm proud of everything they accomplished."
Randy Jennings covers high schools for ESPNDallas.com.