Tarpons ready to roll in playoffs

Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas
·4 min read

Feb. 23—By CLAIRE CRUZ, Staff Writer

Port Isabel's boys basketball championships have been few and far between, but that doesn't bother the 2020-21 Tarpons.

They aren't concerned with the program's past, they're just looking to better its future. And they took the first step by earning the District 32-4A championship after defeating Hidalgo on Feb. 11 to end a 31-year title drought.

Port Isabel dealt with a lot of obstacles due to COVID-19 and still finished the regular season 11-2 overall and 9-1 in district. Its only loss was in a 62-60 game against Santa Rosa to open the season.

Now, the Tarpons have shifted their focus to the next chapter of the season, starting with a bi-district contest against Robstown at 6 p.m. today at Falfurrias middle school.

"We can't really control what happened before us. We don't let things like that bother us. We're just game to game, season to season," Tarpons coach Mike Hazelton said. "It's a strange way to look at it, but it is kind of a neat thing. Somebody pointed out to me that the one prior to that was in 1952, so it was a huge drought between those also.

"I give (the players) a lot of credit. It's been an interesting and a neat experience watching these guys grow. They've got a lot of perseverance," he added. "We didn't start practices until after Thanksgiving. Then we only had three predistrict games. We went into the district and we had some games postponed to later dates, so you're dealing with a lot of different adversity through the whole year, and it didn't seem to bother them. They really go at it and just like to play, just enjoy competing."

The Tarpons are coming into the game after only practicing Saturday and Monday due to the severe winter weather knocking out power at the school, but another challenge is nothing new. Because of the weather shifting games throughout the state, the UIL adjusted the basketball calendar in a way that could have Port Isabel playing three playoff games this week if it advances from round to round.

Hazelton's time coaching in Michigan got him used to working with a schedule similar to that of this season, so he's confident his team will be ready even with the limitations.

"The kids got sent some film, and if they had any power they were at least able to look at the opponent. We talked and texted back and forth, telling them what to look for and what we can do. Saturday was a real good practice, very concise and intense. They're ready to go," Hazelton said.

Intensity is something the Tarpons have used to power them through the season. Hazelton said the team has been playing every game like it could be its last, and that intense approach has kept it focused and competitive.

Senior captain Cole Pinkerton is a catalyst for the Tarpons' energy and success. The four-year letterman surpassed 1,000 career points this season, and the reigning district defensive player of the year also contributes a lot as a defender. Pinkerton and junior Kaiden Martinez are returning starters from a team that went three rounds last season and are two guys leading the way for Port Isabel.

A newcomer to the squad is junior Daniel Zamarron, one of the Tarpons' top scorers. Hazelton said Zamarron has a gift for driving to the basket and his speed is a bonus on both ends. Seniors Will Camacho and Aaron Villarreal are among some players that went along for the ride during last year's postseason run and are now ready to step into the spotlight and reach for that same success.

"(Pinkerton is) always looking to do what he can do to help the team. He's a good all-around player, an outstanding student and a great kid," Hazelton said. "This is (Zamarron's) first year of organized basketball. For a kid who doesn't have much experience, he's aware of what to do and he plays very well. He's great at getting inside the paint and finishing."

Hazelton said this year's squad isn't the biggest, but the players compete with a lot of speed and lean on their athleticism. Hazelton feels Port Isabel is "comparable size-wise" with Robstown and believes that his team's ability to take on anything in its way will help it play well in Round 1.

"They just look at what's in front of them, give it all they got and go after it. It's game to game," Hazelton said. "(Robstown is) a pretty good shooting team, we're going to have to stay on them and find their shooters. Game plan is we're going to do what we do best, which is put pressure on the ball and create turnovers and play as hard as we can.