The Cooldown: Week 25

The 2023-24 season has come to an end here at Inside High School Sports. It’s also the end of the fifth season of this weekly blog. Let’s close it down properly by recapping the boys’ state championships and the year that was in Greater Houston football, boys basketball and girls basketball.

Stafford falls just short of a state championship appearance

Stafford’s season came to an end on Friday afternoon at the hands of Oak Cliff Faith Family, who has made each of the last six state tournaments and won four of those, including this season. Faith Family advanced to the championship game with a 59-40 win against Stafford.

Mercifully, Faith Family will be moving up to 5A next season. The Eagles shot 53% from the field and 38% from three while Stafford shot 34% and 15% from three. That just about tells the story of the game. Isaac Williams led Faith Family with 19 points and seven rebounds. Jazz Henderson also finished in double figures with 13 points, and Doryan Onwuchekwa had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Stafford, by contrast, had no players in double figures. Maxwell Frels and Michael Fontenot-Ross had the team-high in points with nine apiece. Perhaps most shockingly, Stafford had no assists as a team, compared to nine assists for Faith Family as a team. Fontenot-Ross and Braden East had the team-high in rebounds with five apiece.

The numbers don’t take anything away from what Stafford did this year, especially because of who it had to play in the state semifinals. Faith Family is an open enrollment charter school that can attract talent of all kinds from outside of a specified zone, which is unlike most schools that compete in UIL athletics. I’m not going to pretend to know a ton about open enrollment and the talent disparity between Faith Family and the rest of the teams in 4A, but the numbers I mentioned in the first sentence don’t lie.

I say that to frame Stafford’s season as a big success. The Spartans finished the season 35-7 and made it to the state tournament despite not winning its own district. Iowa Colony won the district, but Stafford got the last laugh with a win against Iowa Colony in the regional finals. The season might not have ended how Stafford wanted it to, but getting to the state tournament is a huge achievement in its own. The Spartans have a lot to be proud of.

Hitchcock goes back-to-back

The lone state champion for the 2023-24 Inside High School Sports coverage season is the Hitchcock Bulldogs, who captured its second state championship in school history and second consecutive championship.

The Bulldogs were largely uncontested this season. They lost just three games, to SPC private school Bellaire Episcopal, 6A South Houston and to 4A Eastern Hills, and those losses came by seven points (in overtime), three points and seven points. With a 35-3 record and no losses to 3A schools, Hitchcock was downright dominant all season, including in the state semifinals against San Antonio Cole.

Cole had no answer for Lloyd Jones III, who finished with 17 points and a team-high 13 rebounds. Elijah Sherwood led Hitchcock is scoring with 20 points to go with eight rebounds; Damien McDaniel also tallied double figures with 11 points. Hitchcock advanced to the state championship game with a 57-40 win against Cole in a game that was never really close. That wasn’t the case on Saturday afternoon, however.

Ponder led by as many as 13 points in the 3A state championship game, but Hitchcock mounted a run in the fourth quarter to win the championship, 53-49. It was a win that took resiliency, because the numbers indicate Ponder should have won.

The Lions forced Hitchcock into 20 turnovers while committing just five themselves, and put together shooting splits of 53% from the field, 33% from three and hit 7-8 foul shots. Hitchcock shot nearly 40% from the field and just 2-12 from three, but made 17-19 foul shots.

This time, it was McDaniel leading the way. He finished with 23 points (9-10 on free throws) and nine rebounds, both team-highs, to earn state tournament MVP honors. Lloyd Jones III was in double figures with 12 points to go with seven rebounds.

There’s no such thing as an ugly win, especially if it means bringing home a state championship. This Hitchcock team returned most of its production from its first-ever state championship team a year ago and will go down as a special group in school history. McDaniel and Bryce Dorsey are graduating and moving on, but the Bulldogs could three-peat next season with the return of Jones III, Sherwood and Kelshaun Johnson.

Players of the Week

It almost feels unfair to give out a player-of-the-week award because there were only two teams left playing last weekend. To an extent, everyone that played a hand in winning a state championship for Hitchcock has a claim for POTW.

Because making a state tournament appearance is such a special thing, I’m giving out a POTW to a player from both state finalists from the Houston area.

For Stafford, Michael Fontenot-Ross tied for the team lead in points scored and lead his team in rebounds at the state tournament. For Hitchcock, Damien McDaniel came up huge when his teams’ backs were against the wall. Without McDaniel, Hitchcock might not be state champions right now. Michael Fontenot-Ross and Damien McDaniel are my final players-of-the-week for the 2023-24 season!

Season Recap

Another season is in the books. Week one of football season feels like forever ago and, in a way, it seems like forever until the 2024-25 season will start.

It wasn’t necessarily the most successful season the Houston area has ever seen from a statewide perspective. Football went 0-3 at the state championships, so did girls hoops and boys hoops went 1-1, or 2-1 depending on how you look at it, since Hitchcock did win twice. To put it a different way, just one team of the eight that qualified for the state tournament and/or championship from Houston took home a title.

But, as I wrote last weekend and at the end of football season, winning a state championship isn’t necessarily the best barometer for a successful season. Though DFW won a lot of championships, many of the schools that won those championships are the same programs we see at the state level many seasons – save for Plano East in basketball.

Instead, what makes a successful season to me is the amount of cool storylines. Things like teams breaking playoff droughts, players breaking records, things like that. Houston had no shortage of that this season – look at Cy Springs football or Pasadena Memorial boys hoops or Randle girls hoops. By that measure, it was a great season for the Houston area.

As of today, we’re approximately 171 days from the start of football season. To the 2023-24 senior class, thanks for all the memories and providing great storylines to cover these past 3-4 years. To the class of 2024-25, I’m excited to cover your senior season! I can’t wait to kick off my seventh year with IHSS Houston and my sixth writing this blog. Until then…

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