By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Roughly one month ago, the season for the Waxahachie Runnin’ Indians was about as hopeless as one could project.
The Tribe, under first-year head coach Corey Johnson, was banged up and starting several underclassmen. They had also just begun the second half of District 11-6A with a 77-67 road loss to Cedar Hill and sat tied for seventh in the standings.
Waxahachie had, however, put out its projected starting five for the first time all season that same week. The Tribe then promptly shocked a few doubters with a 47-44 home win against state-ranked (25-8, 10-4) DeSoto.
The Eagles’ four losses in district play ultimately came against Duncanville (2), Mansfield Lake Ridge and Waxahachie. DeSoto’s 10 wins combined with Duncanville’s official and unofficial sanctions opened the door for quite the finish to the 11-6A slate.
The UIL originally stripped Duncanville of all 2021-22 victories, including the Panthers’ 6A state title, after finding the program had participated with an ineligible player. That decision came in early October.
Duncanville ISD superintendent Marc Smith, district personnel and the basketball program then elected to self-withdrawal from the 2022-23 postseason. The second, self-induced decision in November is largely believed to be a preemptive self-sanction to avoid future UIL penalties and avoid further sanctions, while the Panther girls were banned from the 2022-23 postseason
Those combinations also set the stage for the 11-6A No. 5 seed to sneak into the postseason — bringing us full circle to (12-20, 6-8) Waxahachie.
Two of those district losses for the Runnin’ Indians came against nationally-ranked (29-1) Duncanville, a program and district riddled with recent UIL violations. So…we can kind of toss those out, as the Panthers rolled through the district slate winning all 14 contests.
It was, after all, the decision by Duncanville ISD administration to forfeit the Panthers’ 2023 playoff bid prior to the season tipping off in hopes of lessening further sanctions.
As for the Lady Panther basketball program, they were not only kicked out of the 2023 postseason but allegedly had a coaching staff violating sanctions already placed by the UIL during the current season.
But we digress.
On Jan. 27, Isayah Pankey (junior) and King Grace (sophomore) both scored 13 points to lead the Runnin’ Indians to an upset win against DeSoto.
Senior Justin Bohannon pulled down 10 rebounds and added 7 points, while sophomore sensation Parker Jefferson added 7 points and 5 rebounds in his continued return from an offseason leg injury.
The win was the first glimpse of the defense-first gameplan coach Johnson had promised upon taking the job. It was apparent to anyone inside the building that the vibe and intensity had indeed changed, too.
Waxahachie went on to win three of its final five regular-season games against Mansfield, Mansfield Lake Ridge and Dallas Skyline. Its only two losses came against Mansfield Legacy (77-74) and Duncanville (67-54) — and they led both games late into the second half.
The three wins came with the Runnin’ Indians closing out the season by outscoring the opposing bench 215-155.
Those late-season efforts have the Runnin’ Indians headed into a 6A bi-district playoff against (22-8, 12-0) Harker Heights.
The Runnin’ Indians have been outscored by just 91 points on the season (1,807 to 1,898), despite what the record and injuries show.
The Knights, meanwhile, have played a schedule void of the talent often seen in DFW or the greater Houston area, both serving as basketball hubs in the state.
Tip-off in the 6A bi-district championship is slated for 8 p.m. Tuesday at West High School. Ken Roberts will carry the play-by-play call on 1390AM/99.1FM, sports.kbec.com and on any smart device by asking to “Tune to KBEC 1390AM.”
All photos by Fred Phipps/KBEC Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith