For the past eight months, James Ibarra has made the Our Lady of the Hills’ gym his second home.

When the junior forward wasn’t shooting shots from all over the court this summer, he was lifting weights in the nearby weight room. He was an all-state selection in football, but didn’t play this fall so he could focus on basketball. While OLH’s football players practiced, Ibarra was in the gym continuing to refine his game.

“He put in a great summer worth of work this year,” OLH coach Chris Ramirez said.

What was Ibarra’s chief motivation to toil these last eight months? As the only returning starter on last season’s TAPPS state championship team, he simply wanted to make plays to help this year’s team win, to help uphold OLH’s status as one of the best basketball programs in the Hill Country.

He certainly willed the Hawks to a win Monday night against San Antonio IDEA Carver. With the Hawks trailing by a point entering the fourth quarter, Ibarra played his best, earning seven points, two steals and a critical offensive rebound in the final eight minutes to lift OLH to a 53-49 victory.

Ibarra finished with 14 total points. He began the fourth quarter by intercepting a Carver outlet pass and scoring a layup to give the Hawks (2-1) a 45-43 lead. He scored another layup on an assist from Matthew Cummings to sport OLH a two-possession advantage. He also forced another steal that led to two William Cummings’ free throws that helped stretch OLH’s lead to 50-44. With the Hawks’ leading 50-47, he navigated traffic to snag an offensive rebound with two minutes remaining to help the Hawks burn more clock.

“That’s all coach Ramirez: He tells us defense wins championships,” Ibarra said. “I also couldn’t have done all that without my teammates.”

That’s true. Chandler Harris contributed 15 points. Sam Cummings added eight, and both Dalton Herndon and Matthew Cummings chipped in six points. They all possess talent, but none of them have played major varsity minutes for OLH until this season. Naturally, there’s going to be some learning experiences this December while they acclimate to playing at the varsity level.

That was even evident on Monday. The Hawks dominated the first five minutes of the game, racing to a 19-10 lead midway through the first. But when Carver switched to the zone, they started launching for too many perimeter shots, allowing Carver to rally and take the lead in the third quarter. The Hawks were able to control the fourth because they stopped settling and began attacking the basket and drawing fouls.

Monday, however, won’t be the last time the Hawks experience some growing pains.

The good news for OLH: Ibarra has experienced pretty much everything during his first two years on varsity, including playing in two state championships. And on Monday, he showed he has the mettle to help the Hawks overcome early mistakes to win.

“He’s hungry,” Ramirez said. “You can just see the hunger that he has. He’s been (in the state championship game) a couple of times now, so it’s pride for him. It means something to him to be able to be one of the guys who is called on to be the leader. He wants to uphold the expectations. Tonight was a great start. I am really proud of him.”

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