WEST — Tanner Field stood near midcourt and draped blue lanyards displaying gold medals around the necks of his players and coaches. He finished every interaction with a strong embrace.
The passion of his team was evident in those moments. It was also evident in the preceding two hours.
The Woodlands Christian Academy had been the top-ranked team in the state all season. The Warriors made that official Saturday at West High School with a resounding performance.
After suffering an agonizing overtime loss in the state championship game last season, the Warriors found redemption with a 68-50 victory over Colleyville Covenant in the TAPPS Class 4A title game.
“Last year hurt — it hurt bad,” Field said. “It really stinks that somebody has to go home losing, but we’re definitely glad to be in this position. It was a goal for us. We knew we had the talent, and we knew we had the coaching staff to get it done. It’s just an amazing feeling. It’s almost a relief because we were the No. 1 team all year, and we were kind of expected to be here.”
The triumph marked the second state championship in three years for TWCA. The Warriors have made four consecutive state tournament appearances since Field took the reins and have played in the championship bout three straight years.
The victory also marked the sixth state championship for the program over the past 12 seasons. The Warriors also won titles in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018.
Senior guard Bakari LaStrap finished with a game-high 21 points to lead the Warriors (27-6). Junior guard Austin Benigni poured in 20 points, and senior forward Tucker Nooe added 10. LaStrap, Benigni, Nooe and senior Luke Mansfield were selected to the all-tournament team, and LaStrap received his medal amidst “MVP” chants from the crowd.
“Over the course of the year, we planned on being here,” said LaStrap, who is a nominee for the Guys V. Lewis award, handed out to the top player in Greater Houston every season. “There’s a lot of emotion, and we have seven seniors with a lot of maturity. It’s just love. I just really can’t explain it.”
TWCA wasted no time establishing a commanding early lead. The Warriors scored the first 9 points of the game and led by as many as 14 in the opening quarter. TWCA was stout defensively, holding the Cougars (27-9) without a made shot until the 3:06 mark.
“I think it was the unselfishness we came out with,” said Mansfield, who has been with the program all four years. “The ball was moving, we were hitting shots, and everyone was gelling together.”
Covenant cut the lead to 9 with 5:50 on the clock in the second quarter, but that was as close as the Cougars would get. LaStrap nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Warriors the 29-14 lead with 4:01 remaining. TWCA maintained a comfortable margin through the rest of the period and walked into the locker room with a 34-20 advantage.
“Every quarter today, our message was to win the first two minutes, and I think they did that,” Field said. “The defense was impeccable. For us, the message is always that defense leads to offense. It enabled us to get out and run, and we hit some 3s early. Getting a lead was part of the game plan because we knew (Covenant) would be tough down the stretch with their good shooters.”
The Warriors went ahead by as many as 20 points in third frame and did the same in the fourth as they cruised to the victory. The highlight of the contest came with just 1:09 remaining as Mansfield ran down the court in transition and tossed the ball off the back board to LaStrap. The senior guard caught the ball mid-air and finished with an emphatic one-handed dunk.
“It was crazy,” LaStrap said with a smile. “That’s been my guy since sophomore year. To finish it with him throwing the assist — he threw it up, and I went to go get it. I can’t thank my guy enough. That’s kind of like the basketball gods, I would say. It was written perfectly, man.”