As a junior, Conner Lidiak pitched in the state championship game for the Martin baseball team.
The multisport standout entered his senior season hoping to take the Warriors basketball team on a similar ride. But after a losing hoops campaign in 2014-15, Lidiak was unsure how big of a success this season’s basketball team would be.
As it turned out, the Warriors far exceeded Lidiak’s expectations. Martin advanced to the regional semifinals March 4 against South Grand Prairie, falling 51-48. A made shot here, a steal there and the Warriors would have been taking on DeSoto in the next round for a berth in the state tournament.
“We came into this season saying our goal was to win — whatever it took,” the senior guard said. “Whatever we need to do that’s what we’re going to do. Honestly our expectations weren’t even this high.”
First-year coach Clint Schnell said Lidiak and his fellow seniors set the tone before the season began. They wanted to win and they were quick to buy into Schnell’s offensive and defensive concepts.
“The senior class was phenomenal,” Schnell said. “Being a new coach, you never know how they’re going to buy into your new system and loyalty and trust.”
The result of the seniors’ buy-in was a team that shot the ball well and played stifling defense. Lidiak said Martin, which finished with a 26-7 record, became a defense-minded team gradually.
“I think at the beginning of the season we thought we could outscore people,” Lidiak said. “Down the stretch, we really started to guard. … We forced them to play our style, didn’t let them take good shots and that just made it that much easier for us on offense.”
In the playoffs, Martin showed it could match any opponent’s pace and size. In the playoff opener against San Angelo Central, the Warriors used a taller lineup to limit Central’s 6-foot-11 post player. Against El Paso Americas in the next round, Martin matched the El Paso team’s disciplined approach.
“Just having that ability to be diverse in what we do was a tremendous advantage,” Schnell said.
The third-round opponent was the No. 3-ranked team in the state, Amarillo Tascosa, which had not lost that season in 31 games. Martin used its athleticism to stun Tascosa with a 20-1 run to open the game.
But victory that day wouldn’t be as simple as a big first quarter. Tascosa cut the Martin lead to six points by halftime. Schnell reminded his team at the half that they hadn’t won the game yet and that the players needed to regain the focus they showed in the first quarter. The Warriors promptly outscored Tascosa by 18 in the second half to advance to the regional tournament.
“Toward the end of the season we found our groove, found what works,” said Lidiak, who was one of four Martin players in double figures against Tascosa. “And we rode the wave all the way to regionals.”
Several players found their groove late in the season. Senior point guard Kam Malbrough, one of the team’s best scorers, had just six points against Tascosa. But he dished out 12 assists and committed just one turnover.
“He’s a good example of a player who found his niche and focused on what we were trying to do as a team,” Schnell said.
The team was full of similar selfless examples, Schnell said. Lidiak, who was limited by injuries as a junior, played through an ankle injury and, according to the coach, “willed us to a couple of wins.”
Seth Harwell, a junior, overcame a shooting slump during district play and reemerged as one of the team’s best shooters in the playoffs. “He caught fire again,” Schnell said.
Martin’s playoff run came to a halt against South Grand Prairie. But the Warriors hung tight with SGP this time around. Earlier in the season, Martin endured an 11-point loss to SGP in a holiday tournament.
“It was just exciting knowing going into [the regional semifinals] how much better we would be,” Schnell said.