NASHVILLE — For the first time in school history the Marquette Catholic Explorers can call themselves sectional champions.
The Explorers used a stellar second half performance to dismiss the Nashville Hornets 55-48 on Friday in the Class 2A Nashville Sectional finals. With the win Marquette improved to 30-3, while the Hornets wrapped up their campaign at 20-13.
Next up for the Explorers is a rematch with Mount Carmel at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Super-Sectional at SIU Arena. Mount Carmel knocked off Robinson 54-49 in the West Frankfort Sectional finals on Friday. Marquette lost to Mount Carmel 34-32 in overtime at the Pinckneyville Shootout on Jan. 28.
That challenge comes next, but Friday was all about sectional dominance and it was a sweet feeling for the Explorers.
“I’m just so happy for the kids and the program and what it means for our whole program,” Marquette head coach Steve Medford said. “We’ve never won a sectional title and we finally got one and dang it feels good.”
The Explorers have done it the hard way too, beating Gibault in overtime on its home court for a regional crown and now Nashville on its turf for a sectional championship.
“It’s just a testament to the kids,” Medford said. “The other night I look on the court and I’ve got three sophomores and two juniors on the court and I thought, ‘For these kids to have to go do this on home courts, it’s awesome.’ I’m just so happy for these guys.”
Marquette gave up a lot of size to the Hornets on Friday and that played big in the first half. Nashville has a total of 8 players over 6-foot-3 and started 4 of them. It led to the Explorers looking up at a 26-17 deficit at the break, but they turned that around starting in the third quarter.
Much of that credit goes to the guard play. Reagan Snider finished with a game-high 20 points, while Sammy Green added 15 and sophomore Isaiah Ervin chipped in with 11.
“To be honest with you we didn’t really play that well in the first half,” Snider said. “With our guards and our quickness we knew we had to come out with some intensity and pressure because we knew we had better guards in this matchup.”
Snider gave credit to Medford for firing them up at the break, too.
“It was coach getting in our ass, quote that in the paper too,” Snider said. “That’s all it was. He just told us the truth.”
Nashville grew its lead to 11 at 28-17 to open the third quarter on a shot by Langdon Briles at the 7:05 mark and led 30-20 when Brogan Kemp scored at the 6:16 mark, but Marquette began to chip away before going on a run.
Snider’s 3-pointer at the 3:22 mark sparked a 12-0 scoring spree by the Explorers. Green added a shot and then Ervin followed it up with consecutive treys and a steal and bucket. When the smoked cleared on the run Marquette owned a 38-32 advantage with 1:15 left in the third.
“We just kept our head up and kept playing,” Ervin said.
He added about his clutch play, “I just play my hardest and work on my shots every day.”
A traditional 3-point play by Nashville’s Hayden Heggemeier cut the Explorer lead to 38-35 at the close of the third quarter.
The Hornets got as close as 46-44 with 53.1 seconds to play and 48-46 on a bucket by Kemp with 43.8 seconds to go, but never regained the lead. Marquette hit 7 of 9 free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
The Explorers scored the next 6 points after Kemp’s basket to extend it to 54-46, highlighted by a 3-point play by Snider.
Things didn’t look good for Marquette early in the game, as Kemp really stepped up. The Explorers led 2-0, but the Hornets raced on an 8-0 spurt to make it 8-2 and force Medford to call a timeout.
Nashville led 16-7 at the close of the first quarter with Kemp providing 6 of the points. He scored 10 of his team-high 14 points in the first half.
The Hornets extended their lead to 22-9 when Briles scored at the 3:51 mark of the second quarter, their biggest lead of the game.
Ryan Brink’s 3-pointer at 1:33 made it 26-14, but Green’s 3-pointer with 17.8 seconds in the half sent the Explorers to the locker room down just 26-17 despite a tough first half.
“In the first half we did everything we weren’t supposed to and it showed on the scoreboard,” Green said. “Coach just kind of reminded us of the situation and to play calm. He told us to go out and stick to the game plan and it ended up working. We just turned up the pressure on them.”
Nashville head coach Brad Weathers credited Marquette’s guard play as the difference after the game resumed in the second half.
“They turned up the heat and we coughed it up several times and they converted on it. They hit some tough shots and drew us out of our combination defense which I thought we did very, very well,” Weathers said. “When we went into this game we knew we were going to have a heck of a time guarding them man with their athleticism and trying to match up at every spot. They run that Princeton stuff so well… We held on their for a little over two quarters and then they adjusted and credit them and their defense. They made free throws down the stretch and we struggled against their pressure. Even though it wasn’t pretty sometimes in the second half, I think we left it on the court.”
Now it’s on to uncharted water for the Explorers in the super-sectional. Green said they just have to stick to the game plan, play with some urgency and they’ll be fine.
“We just have to work hard in practice and every game treat it like it’s our last, because it could be,” Green said. “We’ve just got to go out there and play hard.”
CLASS 2A NASHVILLE SECTIONAL
MARQUETTE 55, NASHVILLE 48
Explorers 7 10 21 17 — 55
Hornets 16 10 9 13 — 48
Explorers (30-3) — Sammy Green 15, Isaiah Ervin 11, Reagan Snider 20, Jake Hall 7, Chris Hartrich 2. 2FG — 10 3FG — 8 FT — 11 PF — 16.
Nashville (20-13) — Hayden Heggemeier 10, Bryson Bultman 8, Ryan Brink 6, Langdon Briles 7, Brogan Kemp 14, Brandon Schnitker 3. 2FG — 15 3FG — 3 FT — 9 PF — 21.