WEST — For the first time in school history, the John Paul II boys basketball team has reached the mountaintop.
Already immersed in one of the great seasons in Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools hoops history, the Cardinals polished off their hallmark campaign with their first-ever 6A state championship — holding off a fourth-quarter charge by reigning champ San Antonio Antonian for a 51-48 victory on Saturday at West High School.
John Paul’s win put an exclamation mark on a 40-1 season and a 33-game winning streak to close out the year.
“It’s amazing. These guys came up short last year and ever since I took the job back in May, I knew they wanted to win this and would accept nothing less,” said Dan Lee, John Paul head coach. “They’ve worked so hard and they’re so competitive. It’s such a great group of kids with incredible chemistry.”
The Cardinals never trailed in Saturday’s ballgame, and even led by as many as 11 points early into the fourth quarter, 43-32, before having their crunch-time mettle tested by the reigning TAPPS 6A champions.
Antonian tightened the screws with a 14-4 run that trimmed the gap to 47-46 with 2:29 remaining in the contest — drawing within one point on an and-one finish by bruising forward Bryon Armstrong, who poured in 22 points in the loss.
That field goal would be the Apaches’ last of the game, despite ample chances at netting an equalizer. John Paul senior Nathan Dominick wouldn’t allow it, blanketing Antonian point guard Gavino Ramos on an isolation 3-pointer and then later drawing a charge of Ramos to deny an Apache basket.
“Nate’s our glue guy and does all the little things,” Lee said. “He dove on the floor for a loose ball and got a timeout and then took a big charge late. With all the little things he does, he’s amazing.”
With 12 seconds left, Dominick then knocked down a pair of free throws to give John Paul a two-score cushion at 51-46.
“It’s a situation that every kid dreams of when they’re shooting in the backyard,” Dominick said. “I just told myself that I’m built for this and that those shots were going in.”
Antonian added a pair of makes from the charity stripe as well, and even had a crack at a tying basket in the game’s closing seconds, but senior Jajuan Tot slowed up Ramos long enough to deter the guard from getting a last-second shot off before time expired.
“[Antonian] has the heart of a champion and they showed that in coming back,” Lee said. “… But our kids kept responding like they have all year. We played 10 games decided by five points or less and went 9-1, which says a lot about the character of our team.”
John Paul junior Jaylon Tyson poured in a team-high 18 points in the win, including nine points in a first half where the Cardinals led 28-18 through two quarters. Despite being held under its normal scoring output, John Paul’s half-court defense was smothering early on — not allowing the Apaches to reach double figures until the midpoint of the second quarter.
Antonian found its groove over the back end of the first half, closing the gap to 21-15 before Tot scored a quick five points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, to up the count back to double figures by halftime.
Tot, alongside senior and brother Jalen Tot (12 points), as well as Dominick (eight points, eight rebounds) and Tyson were all named to the TAPPS 6A all-tournament team.
“It’s been amazing. We had a super strong team last season, but we’re running a new system and guys like Jaylon have been huge for us,” Dominick said. “We came together, and I think the biggest part of it all is that we just have fun on the court. I think everybody can tell that.”
Legacy Christian goes back-to-back
Legacy Christian mustered some late heroics of their own Saturday afternoon, keeping the TAPPS 5A state championship in Frisco after edging top-ranked Houston Westbury Christian, 62-59, in a meeting between the classification’s top two-ranked teams.
The action transpired as such, with neither team leading by more than six points and trading the lead 11 times. That included five lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, as Legacy seized the lead for good on a pair of free throws by senior Aren Terrien with 1:35 remaining for a 57-56 edge.
Following a pair of defensive stops, including a timely charge drawn by senior Ryan Clink, the Eagles broke the Westbury press and upped their lead to 59-56 after senior Garrett Pelham threaded a cross-court pass to senior Jonathan Mosley for a layup.
Legacy had chances to swell its lead even further but managed to convert only three of its final 12 free throws, but helped keep their title hopes afloat thanks to a pair of timely offensive rebounds by Clink and Mosley off missed free throws, which helped keep the ball away from Westbury in the game’s closing seconds.
“It’s such a special moment,” said Cole Johnson, Legacy head coach. “A lot of these guys have come up through the school and they did it the right way. They’ve built such strong relationships, and this is about savoring that and taking it in.”
The Eagles showcased that synchronicity by winning the turnover battle, 22-12, and picking apart the Westbury defense in the second quarter by spreading the Wildcats around the perimeter and attacking the basket, which opened up a myriad of catch-and-shoot looks for senior Jonathan Alexandre. He knocked down five shots from beyond the arc on his way to a 17-point first half, helping Legacy to a 31-27 halftime lead before Alexandre finished the ballgame with 25 points.
“I love my teammates and my coach for trusting in me. They told me to trust my shot and that it would come,” Alexandre said. “This all means so much. We’ve been talking all year about wanting to do this again and to be able to do it as a senior feels great.”
Alexandre, along with Mosley, Clink and Pelham, were all named to the TAPPS 5A all-tournament team.
“Winning the state championship is a great accomplishment, but to see the community in there and how full our side of the gym was — they have an idea of what these guys have built and it says something that they want to come see it and support them,” Johnson said. “It’s special. For our community and team to be a part of that and feel that synergy, that’s church.”