NASHVILLE — Wednesday was a big night for the Marquette Catholic boys’ basketball program.
The Explorers set the school record for wins, improving to 29-3, while punching their ticket to only the program’s third sectional championship appearance. They did it by topping the Wesclin Warriors 43-29 in the Class 2A Nashville Sectional semifinals. Wesclin closed its season at 17-14.
Marquette now meets host Nashville at 7 p.m. on Friday in the sectional finals. The Hornets earned their spot by beating the Pinckneyville Panthers 43-40 on Tuesday.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Explorer junior Jake Hall said of setting the school record in wins. “We just came out, we weren’t really focused on getting the school record for wins, but we knew we had a good chance at it, so we just came out and got it done.”
And Hall was a major piece in the victory. He finished with a game-high 14 points, with 10 of those points coming in the second half. Hall was the only player to reach double figures in what was a defensive strife for much of the night.
The 6-foot-7 Hall along with 6-5 sophomore Nick Hemann were dynamite down low for Marquette. Hemann netted 8 points, with 6 coming in the second half.
“Without question we’ve got to get production out of our bigs,” Explorer head coach Steve Medford said. “Our guards did a really good job of beating their man off the dribble, getting that help over and a good job of dishing to those guys to get some easy buckets for them. If we do that we’re going to be all right.”
Hall echoed the same sentiment as his coach, giving credit to the guards for finding the bigs in advantageous situations.
“Our guards just create penetration for us and it opens the lane for us and leaves the big man guarding Nick or I and they help off and it’s just an easy dish to get us easy baskets,” Hall said.
Wesclin head coach Brent Brede thought the second-half production from Marquette’s bigs was key in the outcome. He thought the dribble drive of the guards set it all up.
“What they did in the second half was they got away from their normal flow of what they run and they spread us out,” Brede said. “They were able to take us off the dribble, they’re better that way. They’re good athletes, they’re quick, they handle the ball real well and they got into the lane and with that help had to come and (Hall) was able to get some baskets. For them that’s the difference in the game. (Medford) made the adjustment to spread us out and they were better in that regard and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
The Warriors came out firing to start the game, taking a quick 5-0 lead. Justin Kellogg nailed a trey to start the game and Mick Stephen added a bucket.
Marquette took its first lead at 8-7 when Hemann sank a pair of free throws with 42.9 seconds left in the quarter, but Stephen responded with a 3-pointer to put Wesclin back in front 10-8 with 28.2 seconds to go.
Junior point guard Sammy Green of the Explorers stepped out and hit a deep trey of his own though with 1.8 seconds remaining, catapulting Marquette on top 11-10 at the end of the frame.
Green’s 3-pointer was the catalyst to get the Explorers fired up.
“That was huge and we needed it,” Hall said. “We came out a little sluggish and we tried to cover their shooters, but they knocked them down. They’re good shooters.”
Brandon Courtney gave the Warriors a 13-11 with a trey to start the second quarter, but Green tied it back up at 13-13 with a pair from the charity stripe in a low scoring stanza.
Marquette outscored Wesclin just 7-5 to take an 18-15 lead into the break. The Warriors tied it 15-15 with 1:25 to go in the half, but a bucket by Hall put the Explorers up for good with 29.8 seconds left at 17-15. Reagan Snider added a free throw before heading into the locker room.
Hall’s score kick started a 7-0 spree for Marquette that spanned early into the third quarter. He scored 6 of the 7 points on the run.
Brede thought the lack of scoring for Wesclin in the third quarter was the real difference. The Explorers outscored the Warriors 13-4 in the third to nab a comfortable 31-19 lead entering final 8 minutes.
“We scored 4 points in the third quarter and we had decent shots to stay in the game,” he said. “That’s a problem we’ve had as the year has gone on where we don’t score enough. We went through that spell in a game like this and against a team like that and that’s disaster for us.”
Snider’s free throw at the 6:47 mark of the fourth quarter gave the Explorers their biggest lead of the game at 34-19. Wesclin never climbed closer than an 11-point deficit the rest of the way.
Medford and Marquette now turn their attention to the Hornets on Friday looking to earn the program’s first sectional crown. Medford knows it won’t be an easy task.
“It will be a very difficult task,” Medford said. “Nashville is very physical and we’re very fast. It’s kind of the law of physical vs. fast, so who’s going to win? We’re going to have to do a good job on (Brogan) Kemp, we know that. This is not an easy place to play. We’re going to have to be a little more selective on our shots and play a little more patient on the offensive end.”
The Explorers previous sectional final appearances were in 2010-11 under Medford and ‘02-03 under John Ducey. They lost to Breese Central on both occasions.
CLASS 2A NASHVILLE SECTIONAL
MARQUETTE 43, WESCLIN 29
Warriors 10 5 4 10 — 29
Explorers 11 7 13 12 — 43
Explorers (29-3) — Bryce Pettiford 2, Sammy Green 7, Isaiah Ervin 2, Reagan Snider 8, Jake Hall 14, Chris Hartrich 2, Nick Hemann 8. 2FG — 13 3FG — 2 FT — 11 PF — 15.
Warriors (17-14) — Mick Stephen 5, Brandon Courtney 8, Hunter Ottensmeier 2, Justin Kellogg 7, Nate Brede 7. 2FG — 7 3FG — 4 FT — 3 PF — 15.