The Cooldown: Week 24

The finish line on our 2022-23 coverage season is in sight, and boy has it been a weird one. We’ll discuss that more in our year-end wrap-up blog next week; for now, let’s recap girls state championship action, boys regional final action and preview the boys state tournament.

Girls State Championship Recap

Three Houston area girls teams made it to state – Columbus in 3A, Fulshear in 5A and Pearland in 6A – and none fared particularly well.

Columbus fell to Holliday, 59-40. Then, Lubbock Cooper breezed past Fulshear, 70-52. To cap it off, Pearland lost to a dominant DeSoto program, 56-35. Out of those three, only Holliday went on to win a state title.

Regardless of the state title blowouts, each of these teams can say they were not only just the best in Houston, but the best in all of Region III. That means something, and that trip to San Antonio is special regardless of result.

Karlee Mathis and Ally Tribe led Columbus in scoring, with 11 points and 10 points respectively. Those two accounted for more than half of Columbus’ 40 points. In Fulshear’s first-ever trip to state, it was Kimora Lopez leading the way with 18 points on an efficient 6-13 (4-7 from 3). Jada Morgan chipped in 11. RyLee Grays was the only Lady Oiler in double digits, with 16 points in Pearland’s loss to DeSoto.

With that, the ladies season is done-and-dusted. Big congratulations to Columbus, Fulshear and Pearland for representing the Houston area at the state championships. It didn’t end how they wanted, but these teams provided everyone with plenty of great stories this year.

It was the first time at state for Columbus and Fulshear, while Pearland made it for the first time since 1980. All three were looking for a first state title, and all three will have to look a little bit longer. Nevertheless, new blood so-to-speak is always the most enjoyable outcome, watching teams who aren’t staples at state each season like DeSoto.

Boys Regional Final Recap

As the calendar flipped to Saturday, March 4, Houston had six teams playing in a regional final for the right to advance to San Antonio. None of those teams were playing each other, and only two advanced.

In 6A, Klein Oak – which had won its previous two games by a combined three points – finally had its luck run out against DeSoto. Bryson Holmes led the way with 15 points while Isaiah Walker had 11 in the 64-53 loss. Still, it was an impressive run for Klein Oak to win four playoff games and play for a shot at San Antonio after finishing third in its own district.

The tough part about Houston comprising most of Region III in 6A, is it still has to compete against Beaumont United, who has become a bit of a dynasty in the last few seasons. United is one of the few teams in the region not from Houston, but the Wolves will represent Region III at state once again.

Though United was No. 2 in the state while Clear Falls entered the playoffs unranked, that didn’t seem to matter much in Saturday. The Knights nearly pulled the upset, leading with two minutes left in the fourth quarter before United went on a quick 8-2 run to end the game. United ultimately won it 53-48 to make it to San Antonio in its first go-round in 6A. The Wolves won the 2021 and 2022 state titles in 5A.

It was an outstanding season for a senior-laden Clear Falls squad that will sorely miss Orlando Horton and Corey Kelly next year. The Knits finish 28-8 and Region III runners-up, which should be good enough to sneak them into the final TABC top 25 for the year. Horton led the way in the regional finals with 23 points.

Speaking of players who will be greatly missed, how about Marshall guard Jaland Lowe? The Buffs lead guard has been one of my favorite players to follow in the state this season, and perhaps one of my favorites across all four seasons I’ve written this blog.

State No. 2 Killeen Ellison took down No. 3 Marshall handily, 66-50, in the regional final. Marshall finishes its season at 35-4 and look largely unbeatable for most of the season. But that’s the reality in playing in a state as large as Texas. When the field gets winnowed down to the top eight teams in the regional finals, some teams may have to face tests it hasn’t seen in the previous 35-40 games it played.

While those schools couldn’t come out on top, let’s get to the two who did. Booker T. Washington is moving on to state after avenging Furr’s 68-62 loss to Silsbee by beating Silsbee 78-70.

Washington is led by a big four so-to-speak, comprised of two juniors and two seniors. The juniors – Chris McDermott and Odis Carter Jr. – tallied 21 and 14 points, respectively. McDermott’s 21 was a team high. Andre Walker followed close behind with 20 points while Kenneth Lewis had 19. Carter Jr. was the only one among them to not shoot at least 50 percent from the field, and even his 6-13 equaled out to a fairly efficient 46 percent. Washington will look to light the nets on fire again in San Antonio against Boerne.

The other Houston area team headed to state – for a second-straight season I might add – is Hitchcock. The Bulldogs topped No. 3 Lorena 43-31 in a defensive slugfest. Damien McDaniel led the way with 17 points while Elijah Sherwood had 10. Throw in seven points (and 11 boards) from Lloyd Jones, and those three topped Lorena’s scoring by themselves.

As mentioned, Washington (4A) and Hitchcock (3A) will be the lone representatives for the Houston area at the boys state tournament.

Washington entered the postseason ranked No. 4 in the state, and beat No. 3 Silsbee in the regional final. They’ll face No. 7 Boerne – a school having a very nice athletics year; the football team also played for a state title – in the state semifinals at 3 p.m. on Saturday. That game will be available to stream on the NFHS Network; Boerne enters with a record of 32-5 while Washington is 28-7.

Should Washington win, they will face the winner of Oak Cliff Faith Family (30-3) and Canyon Randall (28-9). Faith Family has been No. 1 in the state for much of the season and is no stranger to the state tournament, this is the fifth-straight season for Eagles. The state championship game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday and will be streamed on Bally Sports Southwest.

Hitchcock is back in the state semifinals for the second-straight season. Last year, the Bulldogs narrowly lost to San Antonio Cole, 53-49. This season, the No. 2 Bulldogs will face off against unranked Hooks (32-5), who ironically has a better record than Hitchcock (29-7) despite being unranked.

If Hitchcock can exorcise last year’s demons and advance to the state title game, it will face the winner of No. 5 Childress and No. 7 Lytle. As a virtue of being the highest-ranked team left, Hitchcock gets to play the lowest-ranked team at the state tournament. The 3A state championship game will be played at 10 a.m. on Saturday; the semifinals for every classification will be on NFHS Network while every title game will be on Bally Sports Southwest.

Players of the Week

Just to make this easy and not have to pick favorites – and because each girls team lost its state semifinal game – my girls player-of-the-week is the leading scorer from each of the three teams to make it to state! Congratulations to Pearland’s RyLee Grays, Fulshear’s Kimora Lopez and Columbus’ Karlee Mathis!

My boys player-of-the-week, for nearly leading his team to a massive upset of the No. 2 team in the state, is Orlando Horton! His 23 points in a performance that many on the edge of their seats is more than deserving of POTW honors. Check back next week for our final Cooldown of the season, with boys POTWs from Washington and Hitchcock.

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