Marist sweeps Elite Eight games

Marist School sent its boys and girls high school basketball teams to the GHSA Playoff’s Final Four March 1, the outcome of which were victories over Heritage-Catoosa (girls) and Monroe (boys).

These victories mark the first time Marist School has sent its boys and girls teams to the Final Four in school history.

Both games were played at Marist with the girls winning 36-16 and the boys winning 56-47.

Marist girls dominated the entire game, in similar fashion to how the team has handled several opponents during its 14-game winning streak. The War Eagles led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, 22-8 at halftime, and 26-12 heading into the fourth quarter on the way to victory.

Marist girls only gave up one point in the second quarter and sealed its victory by allowing only four points in the fourth quarter.

Head coach Kim Hixon said her team hangs its hat on team defense, which makes sense based on the team’s season long splits. During the 14-game winning streak, Marist surrendered an average of 24 points per game. Hixon’s team hasn’t scored fewer than 30 during that stretch.

“That’s just kind of our staple,” said Hixon. “That’s just who we are and [our defense] doesn’t take a night off. We feel like some nights, if we’re not clicking offensively, we’re always clicking defensively. We just have to make that our absolute every night.”

The offense took a slower approach and patiently passed and dribbled around Heritage-Catoosa’s defense before finding an open cutter or shooter.

“In our regions there are some teams we don’t want to play fast with, so we do that on a nightly basis. Sometimes we kick and run. We kind of have a throttle. You know, we can speed up when we need to or slow down when we need to,” added Hixon.

There were also times when Marist’s offense pushed in transition and scored fast break points. Or the offense let senior Avery Fantucci take over. Fantucci scored 21 points for Marist in the 36-16 win over Heritage-Catoosa.

Fantucci (25) scored 21 of Marist’s 36 points. Photos by Jay Phillips

Hixon attributed the versatile style of offense to her team’s experience and feel for the game.

“With five seniors on the floor, it kind of helps. They can do that kind of stuff,” said Hixon.

Senior point guard Lauren Kim added eight points and helped lead the team by facilitating offense from her position.

Marist’s girls’ team will play its Final Four game March 4 at 6 p.m. at Fort Valley State College against the winner of Jefferson versus Pickens.

Despite the winning streak and already winning the region championship, Hixon said Marist is locked in and focused on winning it all.

“We want the big one. Region is awesome, but we want the big one. We want the state championship,” added Hixon.

Marist boys beat Monroe

Marist’s boys’ team took down Monroe 56-47, sending the War Eagles to the Final Four under first year head coach John Bauersfeld.

Marist won comfortably in the end, but the game was a back-and-forth affair with both teams going on several runs.

The War Eagles were the first to go on a scoring run, starting the game off red hot and slowing Monroe down on both sides of the court. However, Monroe sped things up and came back from down 14-9 at the end of the first quarter to leading 17-16 four minutes into the second quarter.

Monroe’s lead didn’t last long, and both teams traded baskets for several minutes in the third until Marist made a stop on Monroe’s last possession of the half. Marist point guard Jesse Gaynes followed that stop up by weaving through traffic and banking in a deep three at the buzzer to give his team a 26-22 lead heading into halftime.

Quinn Damm led Marist in scoring with 16 points and answered several of Monroe’s runs with big shots and deep threes.

Damm (5) led Marist in scoring against Monroe. Photos by Jay Phillips

Marist did an even better job of slowing the game down in the second half, and Monroe couldn’t get much offense going when the War Eagles slowed the pace of play.

“We can play different styles. We try to run with opportunities. If we see an opportunity where we feel like we can get a layup, we’ll take it,” said Bauersfeld. “Otherwise, we’ll slow things down and run our stuff.”

The tide truly turned in Marist’s favor in the third quarter when the War Eagles scored on back-to-back and-ones. The first was scored by Grant Erickson, who missed his free throw. Garrett Ledford got the rebound and scored the second and-one.

“That was huge. And that’s the toughest play we’ve been working on all year. For Grant and Garrett to do that is just awesome. They stepped up just massively for us. That was the difference in the game. That sequence,” said Bauersfeld.

The and-ones gave Marist a 39-30 lead and was the biggest sequence of the game until Monroe started a comeback late in the fourth.

After a Marist basket during Monroe’s late run, the Tornados tried to roll the ball inbounds to preserve the clock. However, Marist senior Andrew McLaughlin dove onto the floor and recovered the ball, giving Marist possession with 1:32 left to play.

The War Eagles killed the clock on the remaining possessions to advance to the Final Four.

Marist will play Spencer High School at Fort Valley State College March 4 at 4 p.m.

The War Eagles’ Final Four berth comes after the team lost in the first round of last year’s playoffs, showing the strides the team has made under the new head coach.

“We’re a year older. Our seniors stepped up and our juniors stepped up,” said Bauersfeld.

Bauersfeld said having influential juniors and seniors on the team helped convince the rest of his squad to buy in, and they’re playing with confidence now that they have.

“This is my first year here, and they’re buying into the attitude and effort that we preach every day,” said Bauersfeld. “They’re playing together and playing with confidence right now.”

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