PORT ISABEL No team in the Rio Grande Valley has recorded more consecutive victories during the 2023-24 season than the Port Isabel Tarpons.

The last time the Tarpons tasted defeat was a 44-41 loss against Edinburg North on Dec. 8. Since then, Port Isabel has strung together 22 straight victories, won a second consecutive District 32-4A title and delivered a 90-58 bi-district beatdown against Alice to open the state playoffs Tuesday, avenging last year’s first-round playoff loss.

“We wanted to start the playoffs by making a statement. (Alice) beat us last year so we had to come out and make a statement, but we’re not satisfied,” senior guard Jeffrey Smith said. “We’re focused on Floresville and got to keep moving forward.”

Port Isabel’s Jeffrey Smith attacks the basket against La Feria Friday night at La Feria High School. Courtesy of Victor Dominguez/Unlimited HSS

Now the Tarpons (28-6) are ready for their Region IV-4A area-round playoff game against Floresville (25-8) at 7 p.m. tonight at Corpus Christi Moody High School in Corpus Christi.

“We know each round is going to get tougher, matchups are going to be more challenging, so we want to continue to improve as a team and just do what we do,” Port Isabel head coach Gilbert Rodriguez said. “We know what type of team we are.”

The Tarpons have proven they belong among the region’s top teams this season. They started their 22-game winning streak by defeating three Class 6A schools in a row Weslaco High, Brownsville Rivera and Los Fresnos. Two of them qualified for the playoffs in 6A, and Weslaco High advanced to the area round. Port Isabel’s six losses this season came against 5A and 6A teams, all of which earned playoff berths.

“Early in the season, we scheduled some 5A-6A competition in some big tournaments and that helped us find our identity. Each game if you go back and look at them, we lost some early, but those games opened our eyes to what we needed to improve on,” Rodriguez said. “Once we got going, we’ve been on a streak. Learning from each game has helped us. There’s different ways of winning, each game is different, but we’ve been able to maintain a winning streak just by taking it one game at a time.”

Port Isabel’s Christian Smith (5) against La Feria Friday night at La Feria High School. Courtesy of Victor Dominguez/Unlimited HSS

The Tarpons are led by a trio of Smith brothers Jeffrey Smith and twin junior guards Christian and Cleveland Smith. They make up 60% of Port Isabel’s starting five, score the ball in a variety of ways, and embrace defensive challenges on the other end of the floor. They all possess the ability to take over games, too.

“It’s truly a blessing. You think of it you have to make friends, but you have your brothers right there at home, at the park, anytime you want to play basketball,” Christian Smith said. “It’s very special because it’s like there’s another one of you right there with you, experiencing the same things with you, pushing you every single day and every time you play the game of basketball.”

Senior Aiden Sanchez starts at the four and senior Shaun Moore serves as the five, joining the Smiths in the Tarpons’ starting lineup. Sanchez is a versatile senior forward who can shoot from outside and do damage inside, and Moore controls the paint and cleans up the boards.

Port Isabel Tarpon Aiden Sanchez (10) hustles in for a layup Monday night against La Feria Lions at Port Isabel High School gymnasium. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

“I really think when we play well is when we look for the open person. We don’t stick to one star type of game where it’s going to be one person scoring,” Cleveland Smith said. “We’re at our best when we’re playing as a team, playing as a family.”

Awaiting Port Isabel in the area round is a Floresville Tigers team that finished second in District 29-5A. The Tigers earned their way into Round 2 by defeating West Oso 52-30 on Tuesday.

Sanchez said the Tarpons have to play with the same intensity they showed in their 32-point bi-district playoff win Tuesday night.

“I just want to see us moving on all cylinders; keep moving like a well-oiled machine,” Sanchez said. “I think when we’re all on the same page, moving like how we have been, it’s going to be hard for teams to beat us.”