The Cartersville boys basketball team knew it had a tough draw facing No. 5-ranked St. Pius in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament.
The Golden Lions lived up to their ranking Wednesday night, defeating the Canes at the Storm Center by a score of 63-46.
“They’re a very good team. We would have had to play much better than we did to have a chance of beating them,” Cartersville head coach Mike Tobin said of St. Pius. “I can’t credit them enough. They play excellent defense and they’re physical. I really didn’t think we’d have as much trouble with their press as we did. We didn’t execute like we should have executed.”
Cartersville came out strong in the first quarter, knocking down four 3-pointers from Kobie Whitfield, Cortney Cooley, Jaylon Pugh and Cade Archer. As a result, the game was tied at 16 entering the second period.
“I definitely think we were ready to play,” Tobin said of the strong first quarter. “We were physical. We matched their intensity.”
Despite the even start, it was in that second quarter when St. Pius took the lead for good. The Golden Lions went on a 10-0 run between the 7:30 and 6:15 mark of the period to take an eight-point lead, knocking down two 3s, a pair of free throws and scoring a transition basket.
“The way it started that first quarter, we had a good shot, but that second quarter killed us,” Tobin said. “There was a little span where I had to burn timeouts when they went on a 10-0 run, and we were throwing the ball around and we were doing things we didn’t do at all in practice. We started doing our own thing and it kind of blew up in our face. A tie game went to an eight- or 10-point deficit real quick.”
The Canes were unable to draw closer before halftime as they shot just 2-for-17 from the field in the second quarter. St. Pius’ frontline of 6-foot-7 Jakob Spitzer and 6-6 Kerney Lane was able to deter shots at the rim, and Cartersville’s hot shooting start dissipated. As a result, St. Pius led 33-23 at halftime.
“The last few games, we haven’t been shooting the ball real well. Once again, their defense had a lot to do with it. They played excellent defense,” Tobin said of the shooting woes in the second quarter. “There were a couple of times when we went inside for layups and we were almost concerned it was going to get blocked or something instead of going up strong. ... [St. Pius has] always played good defense. They really do a good job sagging in the lane, so it’s tough to get shots inside. So when you’re not hitting from the outside, it’s tough, and we weren’t hitting from the outside.”
In the third quarter, Cartersville’s defense was able to earn some stops. However, five offensive rebounds created second chances for the Golden Lions, preventing Cartersville from drawing any closer despite a three-point play by Pugh, two baskets inside by Travon Davis and a 3 by Trase Fezzia.
“Travon is working his tail off, but he’s giving up four or five inches,” Tobin said of the five offensive rebounds in the third quarter. “Kobie is giving up five, six inches. That’s huge. But we definitely still could have boxed out a lot better.”
St. Pius led by a score of 44-33 entering the fourth quarter, but the Golden Lions’ lead grew from there as they shot 10-of-13 from the free throw line in the final period. Meanwhile, Cartersville shot 33 percent from the floor in the fourth, eliminating a chance at a comeback.
“The three things I was most concerned about is their offensive transition, their rebounding and attacking their press. We didn’t do a good job of those three things,” Tobin said of the game. “[The players] are disappointed, but I was proud of the fact that I thought we matched their physicality.”
Pugh led Cartersville with 11 points and seven rebounds, Fezzia scored eight points and Whitfield scored seven with seven rebounds and two blocks.
For St. Pius, Carson Seramur scored 20 points with five 3s, and Kerney scored 20 of his own with eight rebounds.
Despite the first-round playoff exit, the Canes still went 21-7 this season with just one returning starter to begin the year. They also won their fourth consecutive region championship.
“We obviously want to try and win a state championship. ... It’s disappointing obviously to lose, but I’m really proud of the guys,” Tobin said of the season. “Honestly, when we played our first game with all our football kids, we literally had one returning starter, and that was [Pugh]. ... So I’m very pleased with these guys, coming back with only one returning starter, winning 20 games and winning our region.”