UIL executives and high school basketball coaches on the floor of the Alamodome had just one question for me when they learned I was covering the Wildcats for Lake Highlands Advocate. Tre Johnson’s reputation as the nation’s top 2024 prospect preceded him, so they wondered how he would handle double coverage from talented, experienced teams fighting for a state title. Would he become frustrated and lapse into foul trouble? Would he be unselfish and graciously spread the ball around? Would he rise to the challenge and score despite defenders hanging around his neck?

The short answer: Lake Highlands won the final game 55-44 to bring home the 6A trophy. Johnson was named the game’s MVP.

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It was no easy feat.

In the finals Saturday night, Beaumont United scored first and led 31-27 at the half. United, which won back-to-back 5A championships before moving up to 6A this year, kept Johnson to just 12 points in the first half.

But Joe Duffield has been working to manifest a state title since he took LH’s head coaching job seven years ago. His players on this year’s team are either hyper-confident or half-crazy. They’ve never seen a lopsided score they aren’t certain they can overcome. Johnson put up 19 points in the second half. Beaumont United was stunned.

The final buzzer broke a dam of emotion rarely seen in Wildcat players. They ran to hug each other. They ran to hug their coaches. They ran to receive the screaming accolades of friends in the student section, who surged forward in a sea of black t-shirts. Then they signed autographs for tiny adoring fans. They stayed so long posing for photos and reveling in the moment that Alamodome staff finally had to shoo them out of the building.

Jackson Howell admits he doesn’t know much about basketball – he plays tennis for the Wildcats. But he was like hundreds of other LHHS students and hundreds more families from the LH community. He wasn’t about to miss the school’s first chance to win a state basketball championship since 1968.

“I really wanted to be here to support the guys and experience this incredible moment,” he said. “I know the kind of commitment and dedication it must take to play at this level and how hard it must be. I can’t wait to see how Lake Highlands is going to celebrate.”

Kendall Schorn, also a tennis player, has been amazed — and inspired — by the way the basketball team handled pressure on and off the court all year.

“We barely have anyone come out [to our matches]. It’s quiet and it’s outside. This is different,” she said, pointing around the Alamodome to the screaming crowds. “This team has such a desire to win for the community. I’ve been watching videos of elementary and junior high kids cheering for them. They are united for the high school. It’s fun knowing people who are doing great things.”

Sarah Bellew says she’s always been a basketball fan. Having friends on the team has made the experience even sweeter.

“It’s like knowing celebrities. Everyone’s trying to get their autograph. It’s awesome. My little cousin plays basketball and really looks up to Samson [Aletan], so I’ve helped make that connection. It helps that Samson is going to Yale and he’s an amazing player. He’s like a big teddy bear. From the outside he’s a little intimidating – he’s just so big — but he’s just the nicest guy.”

Ian Moudy plays for the Wildcat football team, and he, too, made the trek to San Antonio. He and some friends lead the student section, which cheers — sometimes irreverently — for the Cats.

“We want to show the guys we’re here and we care. We love them all, and we know the work they put in on the court. Everyone on this team is at school for hours everyday practicing. It’s so fun to watch them show it off at this level. Everyone is watching — people are here [in San Antonio], people are watching at restaurants back home. It’s amazing.”

Moudy isn’t sure which cheers the team can hear and which posters they can read from the court, but he’s certain his friends on the team know the students are there.

“We’ve had so many texts from the players thanking us for our support, and we’ve been featured on websites and news stories, too. As an athlete, you want to know there are supporters who care and want you to do well. It’s a feeling like no other.”