By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published March 23, 2017
ATLANTA—Upson-Lee High School, Thomaston, ended its season as the only unbeaten basketball team in Georgia (32-0), after defeating St. Pius X High School 53-48 for the Class AAAA state title.
The St. Pius X fan base arrived early at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, March 10, to witness the boys basketball team compete for the state championship for only the second time in school history. The first time was 1992 and the team took a 28-point drubbing at the hands of Albany’s Westover High School.
There was optimism surrounding this year’s team, led by head coach Aaron Parr. St. Pius had not lost since Jan. 17 and the team was riding a 13-game winning streak. Four of their seven losses went to overtime.
But then St. Pius hit only four of 22 field goal attempts and two of 10 from 3-point range in the first half. Their dismal first half of shooting put them down by 13 points, which left some to wonder if they were heading for an outcome similar to the one that beset the team two and a half decades ago.
That would not prove to be the case. St. Pius tightened up its defense, holding Upson-Lee to eight third-quarter points. They were able to chip away at the lead, in part by pushing the ball in transition, aggressively attacking the basket and capitalizing on the hot 3-point shooting of junior guard Everett Lane. He converted five of his seven 3-point attempts in the second half, three of them in the third quarter.
When the fourth quarter began, St. Pius had trimmed the margin to 35-29, but overtaking their opponent was another matter. Upson-Lee junior guard Tavias Fagan hit 11 of his 20 points in the second half and his teammates Michael Smith and Travon Walker were nearly perfect from the free throw line, hitting five of six in the closing 24.7 seconds of the game.
Chance at title first in 25 years
Lane led St. Pius with 29 points. Senior guard Carson Seramur chipped in seven points and sophomore point guard Matthew Gonzalo added four points and dished out four assists.
“We did not shoot the ball well in the first half, and we dug ourselves a hole getting down by double digits,” said Parr. “Although we came back in the second half, our slow start offensively hurt us.”
“Unfortunately, we came up short of a fantastic comeback, but everyone on the team gave everything they had and we left no regrets,” said Lane.
He said it was incredible to be one of two teams in school history to make it to the championship, but the team’s most special quality to him was his teammates were never satisfied.
“It would have been easy to just be happy to be in the state finals, but our team did not want to just be there, we wanted to win, and that shows the mindset that this team had all season,” said Lane.
St. Pius lost seven seniors from last year’s team, and Lane pointed out they were still able to make a memorable run in the playoffs, with the leadership of three seniors, forward Will Lucado, wingman Conrad Schuh and guard Seramur.
“The 2016-2017 team was a historic one that people will talk about for a long time around St. Pius,” said Parr, an alumnus and the school’s all-time leading scorer as a player. “We won the region championship and advanced to the state championship for the first time in 25 years and only the second time in school history.”