Spring Woods takes winning district start to Midland
The Spring Woods boys basketball team had some new competition in district, along with familiar foes. Like the Tigers, three of their current District 17-6A opponents made the playoffs last year.
Spring Woods faced all three during the first four games of league action and emerged with a 3-1 start, the only setback 60-58 against Cypress Creek.
The Tigers opened 17-6A action with a 60-57 win against Cypress Ridge, then stopped 2017 district champion and regional quarterfinalist Cypress Falls, 62-50.
Spring Woods earned a 63-46 win Dec. 14 at Memorial in a meeting of returning Spring Branch ISD playoff teams. The Mustangs had the Tigers’ number last year, handing them two of their five district defeats.
But 32 points by senior Jesse Zarzuela, key shots from the rest of the lineup and effective half-court pressure led the Tigers past a persistent opponent.
“That was a great team effort, great team win,” senior guard Darian Gibson said. “We didn’t want to get swept again by Memorial. Last year we didn’t apply pressure. We felt like that was the key to our success in this game.”
With a district matchup at Jersey Village remaining Dec. 21, the Tigers took an 11-5 record into the holiday break. The mark includes spots in the Pasadena ISD Classic championship game and the Fort Bend ISD Tournament gold bracket.
Spring Woods heads to Midland this week to defend its championship at the Byron Nelson Holiday Classic. The Tigers defeated Odessa, Belton, Midland and San Angelo Central for the title.
“We want to win it again,” Zarzuela said. “It was a great experience last year.”
The tournament takes Zarzuela closer to his future college campus. He signed with UTEP during the November signing period.
“Just wonderful people at UTEP,” Zarzuela said. “I love it. It just felt like home. I’m real cool with the coaches — Coach (Brian) Burton, Coach (Rodney) Terry, Coach (Lamont) Smith. We’re looking to go out there and make history again.”
The Tigers could make a bit of history themselves this year, bringing back the core of a group that earned the program’s first playoff berth in 11 years. They aim for a district championship and their first playoff victory in 17 years.
They showed an ability to rally and finish strong against Memorial. The Mustangs led 15-7 early as Ethan Taylor opened with a few of his team-high 14 points and DeMitri Jones, Grayson Buehler and Chase Mitchell all hit from outside.
But Spring Woods answered with a 14-0 run led by Zarzuela and fueled by a steal and finish from Thomas Hilliard. Gibson, who had 13 points, sunk a three-pointer to break a tie at 22 late in the half.
Nico Hardin, Jalen Howard and Juan Bargas were among those stepping up in the second half. Howard made two threes early in the second half to help build an eight-point lead, while Zarzuela credited Hardin with the dirty work inside, which included two blocks and a key fourth-quarter finish of a Zarzuela assist.
The Mustangs rallied in the third quarter behind Buelher, who had four blocks to go with 11 points. Omar Kaniche, who made several plays at point guard, brought Memorial within 36-35.
But a five-point burst by Gibson in the fourth quarter set up what might have been the decisive play. Zarzuela made a half-court steal and used a tough finish on the other end to earn a three-point play that produced a 56-43 lead.
Memorial nonetheless had an opportunity to close the pre-break district schedule with a winning record. The Mustangs defeated rival Stratford 58-41 prior to playing Spring Woods and followed with an 80-42 rout of Northbrook to even their 17-6A record at 2-2.