By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published March 15, 2007
To St. Pius X High School and Marist School supporters it could have been dubbed the second annual Lenten Classic, but in reality it was the girls Class AAAA state basketball finals between the two Atlanta Catholic schools. For the second consecutive year, Marist and St. Pius X met on the Gwinnett Arena court. After 40 minutes of fierce competition, the Lady Golden Lions held off a gritty challenge from the Lady War Eagles to prevail 45-36.
Marist advanced to the finals after a 53-39 win over Westside Macon High School. Marist senior Drey Mingo, who will play for the University of Maryland next season, finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks, as Maryland’s head coach Brenda Frese watched from the stands. Mingo also went 9 for 10 from the free throw line.
In its semifinal match, St. Pius X advanced with a 44-35 victory over a scrappy and tenacious Northside Warner Robins squad.
The early stages of the championship game resembled two veteran heavyweight boxers feeling each other out in the ring. Neither team could break away or put any distance between the other. It was a very defensive game and the score bore that out. At the end of the first 8-minute period Pius held a 10-6 lead. Marist tied it up at 13 with 3:13 left in the second period, and they took their first lead around the 3-minute mark on a 3-pointer by Andrea McGuirt. The teams went into halftime with Marist leading 18-15.
The third period was much of the same with Marist holding leads of between three and four points. St. Pius center Kelley Cain tied the game up at 25 just before the third period expired. Neither team could seem to deliver the knockout punch until St. Pius junior guard Krista Tate hit a 3-pointer with about 4:30 left in the fourth period.
“Our momentum was down and I had to do something to build our confidence. The 3-pointer was a confidence builder,” said Tate, who did the same thing in the final 2 minutes of the semifinal game, putting St. Pius ahead for good.
In the finals, Tate’s shot was a catalyst for two more 3-pointers by senior guard Taylor Davidson. Davidson, who holds five of the school’s track records (individual records in the 100m and 200m), made her presence felt on the court helping to spur a 9-0 run.
“My shooting had been off all tournament, but at that point I took my time and didn’t rush,” Davidson said. “After I hit the first one I was elated, so I took another one. They were playing back in a zone because we weren’t shooting well in the first half.”
Marist head coach Kim Hixon said she thought that was the turning point of the game. It certainly provided a blow from which Marist never recovered.
According to St. Pius X head coach Stephanie Dunn, “One thing about this year’s team was you never knew who was going to step up, but you always knew someone would.”
Cain led St. Pius with 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 9 blocked shots, while sophomore Morgan Toles chipped in 9 points. Mingo led Marist with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks and sophomore Tesia Davis also added 10 points.
Addressing her team in the locker room following the game, Hixon said, “I told them what a great accomplishment it was to be back in the state championship and how lucky they were to have had the chance twice to play in that game. So many people never get to experience that once and we did twice. I told them they left their mark on the state and they left their mark on the school for the past two years doing something no girls basketball team has ever done here.”
For Dunn and St. Pius X it was their third state championship in four years.
“This championship is very meaningful and I feel especially good for the seniors,” Dunn said. “They have worked hard and experienced success at a high level. Three out of the five seniors on the team played varsity as freshman. That’s what makes it special.”
Those same seniors helped elevate the program to another level, compiling a record of 119 wins and 11 losses over the past four years.
“This team was very special,” Dunn added. “They did a great job of keeping everything in perspective. That’s why they never got rattled and they kept their faith. The week of the semifinals the team took time away from practice to go down to the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. For two hours they stood shoulder-to-shoulder feeding 500 homeless people. That shows you what kind of character this team displayed.”