NASHVILLE – Marquette Catholic's boys basketball team is on the verge of entering uncharted territory.
The Explorers will be playing for the school's first-ever IHSA sectional championship Friday night, thanks to a 14-point effort from Jake Hall and a defensive game plan that smothered Trenton Wesclin's offense throughout the night in Wednesday's IHSA Class 2A Nashville Sectional semifinal, the Explorers eliminating the Warriors 43-29 at Nashville High's Assembly Hall.
Marquette set a school record for most wins in a season as they went to 29-3 on the year, while Wesclin was eliminated at 17-14. Marquette will be playing the host Hornets Friday for the sectional crown and a trip to Tuesday's Class 2A super-sectional at SIU Arena in Carbondale against the West Frankfort Sectional winner; Robinson and Mount Carmel will clash in West Frankfort Friday night for that sectional title.
“Our big plan was really to pressure them and take the out of their game a little bit,” said Explorer coach Steve Medford. “Defensively, the full-court press was a big factor for us; we wanted to press them. We thought that going to be an advantage to us.
“We have some good guards and I thought the second half, getting to some dribble penetration – really, going into a dribble-drive offense and trying to get them off the dribble – really hurt them. I thought we did a good job of that.”
The defensive improvement the Explorers have shown as the season progressed really helped them Wednesday, Medford thought. “We've gotten so much better defensively from the beginning of the year to now,” Medford said. “That's been kind of our staple; a lot of people want to look at our team and say, 'well man, you've got some kids who can shoot it and score,' but I'll tell you what, defensively we've done a really good job.
“Our kids are really hard-guarding and we're really guarding well right now.”
“We handled the pressure better,” said Warrior coach Brent Brede. “If you haven't seen us play a lot, we handled the pressure better fairly well and we attacked it well. At times, instead of trying to bring the ball out and get set, we tried to score out of it; in the second half, we scored four points in the third quarter and we had decent shots in order to stay in the game.
“That's a problem we've had as the year's gone on – we don't score enough. We went through a spell in a game like this and a team like that, it was a disaster for us.”
The Explorers' second-half surge that gave them the game was a simple change in strategy, Brede thought. “What they did in the second half, they got away from their normal flow of what they run and they spread us out. 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 really 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 and he made an adjustment offensively to spread us out. They were better in that regard, and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
Besides Hall's game-high 14, Reagan Snider and Nick Hemann had eight points each, Sammy Green had seven and Bryce Pettiford, Chris Hartrich and Isaiah Ervin had two point each on the night. Brandon Courtney led the Warriors with eight points, while Justin Kellogg and Nate Brede each had seven points, Mick Stephens five and Hunter Ottensmeier had two.
With the Explorers playing for the school's first sectional championship Friday, Medford is looking forward to the challenge. “It'll be a lot of fun,” Medford said. “It would mean a lot for us and a lot for the kids. It's something that these kids have prepared really hard (for) and they deserve it.
“We're going to prepare hard the next couple of days and come in here Friday and see what we can do.”