Texas City head coach Chris Mason, the 2016-17 boys basketball county coach of the year, didn’t need to be reminded his team would have its hands full playing in arguably the state’s toughest district. But, he got those reminders anyway.
“When the new district first came out, the first call I got was from an ex-coach here, Darrell Collins, and he said, ‘Y’all are screwed,’” Mason said. “Those teams were as advertised. They were big, fast and they looked impressive.”
Returning to District 23-5A were last year’s state finalist Fort Bend Elkins, Fort Bend Marshall (which went on to the state finals this year) and always solid longtime rival Ball High. Newcomers Manvel (dropping down from Class 6A and an eventual regional finalist) and brand-new program Alvin Shadow made the district even deeper.
In his 20th season as a head coach and sixth at Texas City, Mason knew he didn’t have the individual talent on his roster to compete head-to-head with those teams, but if he could get his players to buy into the concept of having 10 to 11 players sharing equal minutes with frequent rotations in and out, he knew that the Stings may just be able to wear down their more talent-rich foes.
“One thing we were going to do that I sold to the kids from the very beginning was that we weren’t going to pass the height test,” Mason said. “I told them that we may not be as good as everyone, individually, but when we roll 10 or 11 deep and if you believe in what we do, we’re going to have a chance in every game, and that’s what happened.”
In preparation for district play, one thing Mason preached to his team was to not be overwhelmed, and a pre-district game against a talented Dickinson bunch would prove to be the perfect primer for the District 23-5A grind.
Occurring on a Wednesday during a holiday week, the Texas City-Dickinson matchup was the only one on this side of the Houston area, resulting in a jam-packed gym and playoff-like atmosphere. A buzzer-beating 3-pointer from senior point guard Johan Rodriguez lifted the Stings to the win and a huge confidence booster.
Texas City went on to perform well at a tournament in Corpus Christi, where they beat another talented Class 6A team in The Woodlands, and the Stings opened district play with a road win at Ball High to set the tone for what was an unlikely run through 23-5A.
“I said, ‘Wow, these guys might not look like it, but we have a chance to do something special,” Mason said.
The Stings got off to a 5-0 start in district play, but then came the gauntlet in Texas City’s district schedule — having to play Manvel, Marshall and Elkins, back-to-back-to-back.
After a close loss to Manvel, Texas City stunned the district, overcoming a double-digit deficit to beat Marshall, 78-64, and then topping Elkins, 52-51, on a 3-pointer at the buzzer, once again from Rodriguez.
To the surprise of just about every prognosticator, the Stings ended the first half of league play all alone in first place, and eventually finished as 23-5A’s runner-up with a 13-3 record, proving to be every bit the equal of the district’s powerhouses.
The Stings picked up the program’s first postseason win since 2014 before getting edged out by Port Arthur Memorial in area round to bring their season to a close.
“This year with this bunch being not very big and not very fast but just agreeing to their roles and playing 10 and 11 people, because that’s not an easy thing to do, I think it’s been my most gratifying season,” Mason said.