Two area high school basketball teams are off to roaring starts and might be on their way to their schools’ best seasons in at least a decade.
The St. Pius X boys are 19-7 and have already have begun TAPPS 6A district play as 2018 comes to a close. The Panthers have followed up back-to-back 24-win seasons with another strong push out of the gate and are ranked ninth in the state among TAPPS 6A teams by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches — their highest ranking in a decade.
Meanwhile, the Heights Lady Bulldogs are are 16-7 entering the 2019 portion of their schedule and 3-1 in District 18-6A under head coach Kerrick Arrington. The 16 wins for the Lady Bulldogs approaches a recent school record of 18 victories set during the 2011-12 campaign.
“They don’t back down from anybody,” Arrington said. “They just go out and play their game.”
Recent St. Pius X history is full of deep playoff runs. The school has reached at least the TAPPS state semifinals in three of the previous five seasons and the state title game last season, where the Panthers fell to a Concordia Lutheran team that finished 43-1.
This year’s squad is showing few signs of slowing down as it aims to hoist St. Pius X’s first state basketball title since 2007.
“We lost some key pieces, but we brought back enough,” Panthers coach Brandon Scott said. “Everybody’s following suit, playing together on both ends of the floor.”
Senior guard Chad Graham, who was on last year’s state runner-up squad, serves as the catalyst for the Panthers’ high-powered offensive attack, which averaged 73 points per game through the midway point of the season.
“He works so hard on and off the floor. He’s an extension of me,” Scott said. “He gets it, he understands what we’re doing, and when things fall apart he puts them back together.”
For the Lady Bulldogs, producing and maintaining their success is a testament to their close-knit group and made all the more eye-opening due to the team’s youth. Of 14 players listed on the Lady Bulldogs’ roster, 11 are freshmen or sophomores.
“Though the majority are (underclassmen), they’ve been playing together a long time,” Arrington said. “They can get after each other on the court and know it’s not personal – everyone just wants to make the others better.”
Leading the way for Arrington’s squad is Gracelynn Alvarez, averaging about 15 points per contest along with five rebounds and two assists per game for an attack averaging about 58 points per outing. And if her shots aren’t falling, Arrington knows he’s got a spark plug in fellow sophomore guard Trinity Frias, who adds nearly 11 points per game.
“Gracelynn has been the person that, when the team gets down and things aren’t going their way, everyone looks to in order to get things jump-started again,” Arrington said. “Trinity always seems to get the offense jump started again if the shots aren’t falling. When you see her, you might not expect it, but when you get out on the court, you know she can play.”
Arrington’s team is stout defensively as well, surrendering 43 points per game, led by the hard-nosed mentality of senior forward Patricia Bilderback.
“She may not be the most athletic girl out there, but she’s a monster defensively – she’s one of those kids where if she makes a mistake, she gets corrected and never makes it again,” Arrington said. “Those are the kids you want on your team.”
The Heights Bulldogs have stumbled out of the gate thus far in the 2018-19 season, sitting at 4-6. However, coach Sammy Johnson’s team has gotten into a bit of a rhythm, winning back-to-back contests against Westbury and Chavez. On the heels of a deep playoff run last season, the Scarborough Spartans also sit at 4-6 after a victory over KIPP Generation’s Collegiate. Meanwhile, Waltrip and coach Clifton Morris sit at an even 5-5 following recent triumphs over Milby and Wisdom.
Lutheran High North sits at 5-5 and has won five of seven contests since dropping two straight to open the season. St. Thomas, meanwhile, now sits at 7-4 and is in the midst of a five-game winning streak after last week’s 57-37 victory over San Marcos High School in the Hays Holiday Classic.
Coach John Slomcheck and the Lutheran High North girls sport an even 8-8 mark as the season passes its midway point following an 81-36 defeat of First Baptist Christian Dec. 15. St. Pius X sits at 1-15 on the season.
The Scarborough Lady Spartans have struggled to a winless start as have the Waltrip Lady Rams.