Illness has unfortunately been a way of life for many Texans over the first couple of months of 2018. All manner of viruses have swept across the state, including various strands of the flu.

However, one outbreak is more welcomed — that of hoops fever.

“That’s the biggest crowd that anyone around here can remember,” Hamilton girls basketball coach Stephen Heers said, referring to his team’s Region II-2A quarterfinal game against Poolville on Tuesday. “We packed it over at Stephenville, and it’s just unbelievable for our kids. They’re pretty excited.”

Hamilton is one of four Central Texas girls teams that will get to experience the delirious side effects of hoops fever for at least a little while longer. The others are Temple in Class 5A, China Spring in 4A and Marlin in 3A.

When a team reaches the fourth round of the UIL state playoffs, it doesn’t require a grand, rah-rah speech to understand the significance. After beating three playoff foes, it knows it’s accomplished something.

Hugs, smiles and happy tears were abundant for China Spring after the Lady Cougars outlasted Burnet, 52-46, in double overtime on Tuesday in Belton to punch their regional ticket. China Spring (29-8) will face Houston Yates (21-6) in the Region III-4A semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday at Sam Houston State’s Johnson Coliseum in Huntsville.

“They’re very excited. This was their goal all season — to win district and to get to the regional tournament,” China Spring coach Kristi Mize said. “They’re excited to get those goals. Of course, we want more and we’ll take more.”

More would first involve beating Yates, but that has happened before. Last season, the Lady Cougars faced Yates in the Aggieland Invitational in College Station and pulled off a 52-41 victory. “Hopefully that gives my girls some confidence going in,” Mize said.

China Spring tends to play smart basketball — whipping the ball around to the open shooter — which fits the Lady Cougars’ personality. Four of the team’s starters, seniors Gabby Cleveland, Abbie Snyder and Alex Perkins and junior Summer Emblem, rank in the top five in their respective graduating classes.

If China Spring eludes the Lions, it will face the winner of the other regional semifinal game between top-ranked Liberty Hill and eighth-ranked Houston Wheatley for the right to go to the state tournament. That regional final is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday.

Temple (29-5) has appeared to be on a collision course with the state tournament all season. The Tem-Cats dominated their first two playoff foes, outscoring them 103-32, before grinding out a 53-46 win over Ennis in the regional quarterfinals on Tuesday at Midway High School.

Now the challenge looms even larger. Temple will face second-ranked Barbers Hill (36-2) in the Region III-5A semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Houston’s Delmar Center.

Temple is making its fourth regional tournament trip in school history, and first since 1997. Interestingly enough, the Tem-Cats’ head coach Tamarah Sanders played on the school’s first two regional tourney teams in 1992 and ’94.

Out in Marlin, head coach Lawrence Gullette has tried to test his team all season in practice. He occasionally will put the players in a 5-on-4 situation and make them really work for a bucket.

The strategy has worked, as the ready-for-anything, battle-tested Lady Bulldogs qualified for the Region III-3A tournament by downing a 30-win Academy team, 56-47, on Tuesday at University High School. Marlin (29-8) will next face Hitchcock in the regional semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Midway.

When Marlin really needs a basket, it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got the best basket weaver in the area. Junior guard Mystique Womack, the reigning Super Centex Player of the Year, leads Central Texas in scoring at 26.6 points per game, and has poured in an average of 38.7 in Marlin’s three playoff wins.

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Kierrae Davis (22) and Marlin will try to add to their win total this weekend at the Region III-3A tournament at Midway High School.

Then there’s Hamilton, out on the western edge of Central Texas. The Lady Bulldogs live by a simple philosophy — get stops and take advantage of your scoring chances when they present themselves.

In the playoffs, Hamilton has yielded 17, 27 and 30 points in wins over Seymour, Lindsay and Poolville. In the third quarter of the Poolville game, the Lady Bulldogs took control by winning the third quarter, 19-4, while knocking down 11 out of 12 free throws.

“The girls are intelligent, and they do a good job of following the game plan,” Heers said. “They never really panic.”

Naturally, Hamilton will face its toughest opponent thus far in the Region II-2A semifinals in McKinney, when it hooks up with 22nd-ranked Union Grove.

“It’ll be a heck of a challenge,” Heers said. “But we’ve been able to rise through some things this year, and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Gholson adds softball to athletic mix

Gholson High School made a little history last week when it fielded its first softball team. The Lady Wildcats opened the season at the Meridian Tournament, and even came away with a win.

Since 2007, Gholson, a Class 1A school located on the northwest edge of the Waco city limits, has started athletic teams in volleyball, cross country, track and football, the latter of which first fielded a team in 2012. Prior to 2007, it only offered basketball.

Waco High’s sweet turnaround

As turnarounds go, this one counts as a 180-degree slam dunk.

Waco High’s boys basketball team moved on to the area round of the Class 5A playoffs with a 47-44 win over Nacogdoches on Tuesday night. With the victory, Earl Farley’s Lions moved to 21-14 overall on the season.

That’s quite a reversal from last year, when the team suffered through a tough 10-24 campaign.

It marks Waco High’s first trip to the second round of the postseason since the 2013-14 season, when the John Weeks-coached bunch went 23-8 and reached the regional quarterfinals.

The Lions will next face Huntsville at 6 p.m. Friday in Fairfield. It’s the first meeting between the two schools since Huntsville topped Waco High, 77-64, in the bi-district round in 2015.

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