McALLEN — The McAllen High Bulldogs have put themselves in the exact position they were in nearly a year ago to the day, in the Region IV-5A quarterfinals squaring off against Corpus Christi Flour Bluff for a spot in the regional semifinals.
McHi ended the Hornets’ 2021 season with a 54-47 win in last year’s third-round playoff matchup. The Bulldogs (31-8, 12-2) are focused on making it happen again at 7 tonight at Falfurrias Junior High.
McHi’s crosstown rival, McAllen Memorial, will also be playing in the regional quarterfinals against Corpus Christi Veterans at 7 p.m. at Falfurrias High School.
“It’s familiar territory. We’ve been here before in the third round against a familiar opponent, and I think this is what they wanted as far as a rematch,” McHi head coach Ryan Flores said. “It feels great to be where we’re at. I’m proud of the kids for how hard they’ve worked all season. We’re playing our 40th game and I don’t remember playing so many games in recent years. It’s been a grind for the kids, to wake up early, practice hard and stay focused on the game plan we have for each opponent. I’m proud of them, I’m proud of where we’re at and how the program has been doing in years past up until now.”
The Bulldogs earned their spot in by fighting past Victoria West in the area round last weekend. The Warriors sent the game into overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation. McHi rallied and walked away with a 49-45 win in extra time.
Flour Bluff finished the regular season with a 25-9 overall record and second in District 29-5A at 14-2. The Hornets defeated Brownsville Pace 60-48 in their area round game to advance to tonight’s regional quarterfinal.
“We got to step up; everybody has to lock in,” senior guard Jaylon Chappell said. “We’re playoff veterans, like everybody says, now just got to play like it and play defense, because defense wins games.”
Meanwhile, the Mustangs (25-12, 12-2) will be up against a Corpus Christi Veterans squad (30-7, 15-1) that took down Rio Grande City 78-48 in the area round last Friday. Memorial punched its ticket to Round 3 by cruising past Laredo Martin 74-61 in area playoff action.
“It’s three rounds deep so we know they’re bigger, stronger, faster, so they’re here for a reason, but so are we,” Memorial head coach Rick Treviño said. “This team is a very passionate and competitive team. They understand what it takes to compete and win. I think we were in a pretty tough district with McHi, going at it with them, and I think that helped us both get to where we’re at.”
IN THE MIX
Four of McHi’s five starters average 10 points per game or more. The fifth averages 9.6 points per outing.
The Bulldogs’ balanced attack has worked wonders this year as all five starters — Danny and Robert Canul, Jaylon and Jordon Chappell and Darren Manriquez — possess the ability to step behind the 3-point line and knock down shots from long range.
“I think it’s a big threat for other teams because usually when you face another team, you look at one or two guys that are going to do everything,” Robert Canul said. “With us, they have to look at all five of us, they have to guard all five of us the whole game.”
The Bulldogs’ puzzle pieces are interchangeable. They can play inside and out offensively, while Danny Canul and Jordon Chappell have taken over the low post defense.
“Sometimes Danny will be the center of our zone, sometimes it’ll be Jordon in there. Both those guys have done a great job adjusting and it goes to how smart they are and how much basketball they know,” Flores said. “This group has the skills, but their basketball knowledge has grown throughout the years.”
Manriquez, who transferred from McAllen Rowe last summer, has added another dynamic player to the Bulldogs lineup. The junior point guard consistently finishes tough shots at the rim while navigating through trees, drops off dimes for open teammates when defenses close in on him and has a knack for playing passing lanes and forcing turnovers.
“Darren is such a great ball-handler and a great, aggressive basketball player. He gets after it on both ends of the court,” Flores said. “When he first got here, it was a bit of a transition for him to trust some of his teammates, but as he’s gotten games in, he’s accepted his role as far as being a leader, knowing when to push and when to set up.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
McHi’s second-round playoff opponent, Victoria West, had the word family printed across the back of its game uniforms last Friday. The Bulldogs quite literally are family.
McHi’s roster includes three sets of brothers — fraternal twins Jaylon and Jordon Chappell, identical twins Xander and Xavier Garcia, all seniors, and Robert and Danny Canul, senior and sophomore brothers, respectively.
The family ties have made for interesting practices on the hardwood at McHi through the years.
“There’s always times where the Canul brothers are going at it or me and my brother are going at it. There’s always competition — in the weight room, when we’re running or playing 5-on-5 — it’s fun like that,” Jaylon Chappell said.
Flores said the makeup of the roster adds fuel to their fire.
“It’s a very unique dynamic, having those three sets of brothers, it’s having them motivate themselves. They’re totally different but they’re the same in a way,” he said. “Coaching the Canuls, the Chappells and the Garcias, it gets very competitive. You know how siblings and cousins can get competitive, they bring that same type of competitiveness, energy and effort amongst each other.”