For the fourth consecutive season, the Cartersville boys basketball team is the region champ.
The Canes took down Heritage, Catoosa in a defensive struggle Saturday night at Southeast Whitfield by a score of 46-43.
“We told the guys, ‘It’s something you can always be proud of. It is quite an accomplishment,’” Cartersville head coach Mike Tobin said of winning Region 7-AAAA. “[Heritage] had us. Our shots weren’t falling. What won it for us was our defense.”
Cartersville will face St. Pius in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs Wednesday at the Storm Center with tip-off tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Canes had to pull the region championship game out late after trailing for much of the second and third quarters. However, Cartersville was able to earn some crucial baskets in the fourth quarter to come up with the win.
The game was tied at 38 apiece with three minutes remaining. JKobe Orr untied it with two free throws at the 2:55 mark, and Trase Fezzia converted on a driving basket 30 seconds later to take a two-possession lead.
From there, Cartersville’s defense and free throw shooting sealed the game. Heritage shot just 6-of-24 from the field in the second half, while the Canes made 7-of-11 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Fezzia scored eight of his team-high 12 points in the final period, including a big 3 to tie the game early in the fourth. He also disrupted Heritage’s offense by hounding the Generals’ point guard, Tylon Gaines. Fezzia had two of his three steals in the fourth quarter.
“Trase came up real big with the defense,” Tobin said. “He’s tough putting ball pressure on the guards.”
“It felt like football all over again. It was with the same brothers, so it was crazy,” Fezzia, who was an all-region and all-county cornerback in football, said. “I’ve never been [to the state playoffs] in basketball. I got my ring in football, so I’m trying to get one in basketball.”
Cartersville outscored Heritage 16-11 in the fourth quarter, but it was a big bucket at the buzzer of the third quarter that turned the momentum. With the Canes trailing by five with seconds remaining in the third, Region 7-AAAA Player of the Year and point guard Jaylon Pugh rushed the ball up the court. He passed the ball just over the half court line to T.J. Horton, who buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key just as the buzzer sounded.
“That was huge,” Tobin said of Horton’s 3.
Cartersville needed a boost after a poor-shooting three quarters in which the Canes shot 10-of-34 from the floor and shot just two free throws against Heritage’s 3-2 zone.
“They played good defense on us,” Tobin said of Heritage. “We had open looks today. We just weren’t hitting them. ... We were contemplating slapping a press on them just to get something going.”
Cartersville made enough shots in the fourth to win, though, and also turned up the effort on the boards. Pugh had nine rebounds to go with his nine points in the game. And after getting outrebounded 19-14 in the first half, Cartersville won the rebounding edge 22-11 in the second half.
“What we try to emphasize is crashing the glass. I didn’t think we did a good job,” Tobin said. “[Heritage’s Cole Wilcox and Dylan Bice] do a great job boxing out. I thought, especially in the fourth quarter, we started getting after it.”
With the win, the Canes improve to 20-6 on the year as they enter the state playoffs.