Hawks win 2019 TAPPS state title

Our Lady of the Hills Regional Catholic High School’s Hawks earned won a state championship after defeating Midland Classical in Friday in Waco. It is their second championship in three years.

WEST — As soon as Travis Reeh spotted William Westfall walking 10 feet ahead of him inside a West High School hallway, he began smiling, sprinting after his teammate until he was close enough to embrace him.

“I couldn’t love you more right now,” Reeh beamed moments after his Our Lady of the Hills’ had rallied from second-half deficit to triumph over Midland Classical Academy, 50-47, in the TAPPS Class 3A state championship. One of the his arms remained wrapped around Westfall’s shoulders as they walked toward OLH’s locker room.

This is what winning a state championship looks like. But Reeh wasn’t always this happy on Friday. Two minutes before the start of the second-half, he and Westfall had engaged in another sort of heart-to-heart. The two seniors had experienced a frustrating first-half: Reeh had spent most of the first 16 minutes sitting on the bench with foul trouble; Westfall’s shots weren’t falling and the Hawks entered halftime trailing, 24-18. 

But the two best friends encouraged each other to keep fighting.

“We were telling ourselves that we got to keep on going,” said Westfall, who finished with 11 points in his final high school game. “That’s mainly what the conversation was about: That we have to start something in the second half.”

And that’s exactly what they did in the final 16 minutes of their OLH careers, scoring 28 of the Hawks’  32 second-half points. With over a minute remaining in the game, Reeh forced a steal, pulled up at the right wing and splashed a contested triple to even the score at 45-45. With the Hawks trailing, 47-45, Senior center Cole Lutz dashed to the top of the key to set a screen for Reeh, who drew a double team before lofting a pass to Westfall on the left wing. Westfall didn’t hesitate, coolly burying the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining. 

After Classical’s Conrey Echols missed the front end of a one-and-one, Reeh sank two free throws to extend the Hawks’ lead to 50-47 with 1.9 seconds remaining. The Knights’ game-tying 3-point attempt at half court fell short to seal the Hawks’ second state title in three years. Moments later, OLH coach Chris Ramirez’s eyes welled with tears as he watched his junior varsity players dart off the bench to embrace the starters at half court. Five minutes later, the Hawks hollered as Westfall hoisted the state championship trophy. And 15 minutes later, Ramirez was greeted with more cheers when he opened the doors to the victorious locker room.

Once again, the Hawks had ascended to the top of Texas basketball.

Senior Hunter Taylor added seven points; his senior comrade Joaquin Vazquez chipped in six and James Ibarra contributed two points.

“I got to give credit to everyone on the team,” said Reeh, who scored 20 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. “The first half, we were barely losing and I didn’t even play that much. That just tells you how good Will, Hunter, Joaquin, Cole and Ibarra played in the first half.

In the second half, Will won the game. I did some stuff, but Will hit the shots that put us over. That’s the truth.”

And another truth is that Reeh helped the Hawks rally when it looked like they were heading toward a loss. They trailed 32-21 midway through the third. Reeh, though, scored the Hawks’ next eight points to trim the deficit to 34-29.

The Hawks were still behind, 43-35, with less than four minutes, but that’s when Westfall and Reeh worked most of their magic. 

Westfall knifed toward the elbow and buried a jumper to begin the comeback. On the next possession, Reeh dished to an open Westfall, who drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to melt the deficit to 43-40. Vazquez brought the Hawks to within a point when he scored a layup with 43-42 remaining.

Classical’s Cort Miller knocked down two free throws to give the Knights a 45-42 advantage. Westfall missed a potential game-tying triple on the ensuing possession with 1:28 to go.

It didn’t matter. Reeh promptly stole the ball from Echols at half court, took about five dribbles toward the right wing and launched. The shot didn’t touch any part of the rim. 

Forty seconds later, it was Westfall’s turn to play hero. As he released his game-winner, words from Ramirez flashed through his mind. Throughout the season, Ramirez kept telling Westfall that he was going to deliver in a clutch moment at some point. In other words, he essentially predicted Westfall’s game-winning shot several months ago.

“At the beginning of the year, coach assured me after a big loss that I was going to have a time when I did something really big for us,” Westfall said. “It paid off when we really needed it.”

In a way, Friday’s game served as a microcosm of OLH’s season. Ramirez even admits there were times when the Hawks didn’t look like contenders. They initially struggled adjusting to the departure of James Westfall, the Hawks’ starting point guard from 2014-18. Players had to learn how to adjust to new roles.

But like Friday, the Hawks powered through the adversity. As a result, their season ended with a perfect ending, with Westfall and Reeh sporting huge grins as they walked into the locker room with their teammates for one last celebration.

“We started with some rough patches throughout the year — just trying to figure out that team chemistry and how we everyone was going to fit with each other,” Ramirez said. “But we stuck to the process and kept persevering and really put some time in practice.

“The boys believe in each other. … I am still in shock — it still hasn’t really hit me.”

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