By Zach Shugan
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Mount Pisgah boys basketball team entered the state playoffs as the favorite to win it all in Class A Private, and through the first three rounds, the Patriots have shown why.
No. 1-ranked Mount Pisgah (25-6) took down No. 2 St. Anne-Pacelli, 62-55, in an Elite Eight game the Patriots led the entire way, earning a berth to the Final Four for the second year in a row.
“It’s great to win,” Mount Pisgah’s second-year head coach Matt Hixenbaugh said. “[The coaches] love these guys so much. The biggest thing we like is getting together to practice, and the only way you get to do that right now is to keep winning. That’s really the beautiful thing, the fact we get to come to the gym and get ready for another game and put a game plan together and sweat and get after it. It’s a joy, and we’re very fortunate.”
Mount Pisgah, or more specifically, senior Chase Tucker, had the hot hand early in the game. Tucker scored 11 points, nine of which came from beyond the arc, and the Patriots led 15-7.
Tucker finished the first half with 19 points and five three-pointers to his name, as Mount Pisgah led 31-19 at halftime.
“The first half, to be honest, we didn’t play great,” Hixenbaugh said. “Chase was great. His shooting gave us that cushion. We didn’t defend well or rebound well, and we missed some shots at the rim. But when you make shots, it alleviates some holes.”
Although they led by double digits entering the second half, the Patriots were facing a senior-heavy St. Anne-Pacelli team fresh off a comeback win in the Sweet 16, so putting the game away wouldn’t be easy.
The Vikings put pressure on Mount Pisgah in the third quarter and managed to cut into their lead, making it a five-point game, 50-45, entering the fourth quarter.
“They came out like five seniors who didn’t want their season to end, and they kind of threw that first punch at us,” Hixenbaugh said.
Mount Pisgah settled down in the final period, hitting key shots on offense and getting the necessary stops on defense to snuff out any comeback runs by the Vikings.
Tucker led the Patriots with 24 points (five 3-pointers), and fellow senior JoJo Peterson added 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks.
“JoJo made a couple big plays,” Hixenbaugh said. “We want the ball in his hands to make plays. He was great. He played 32 minutes and guarded their best player. We’re blessed to have him.”
Following wins at home over North Cobb Christian, Providence Christian and St. Anne-Pacelli, the Patriots will be on the road next for the first time this postseason, traveling to Dalton this weekend to take on Christian Heritage in the Final Four. The No.10 Lions defeated No. 8 First Presbyterian Day, 59-54, on the road in their Elite Eight game.
“At this point we’re just glad to play and don’t care who it is,” Hixenbaugh said. “All three teams we’ve played are really good teams. We’ve been through the gauntlet, and we’re fortunate to have survived.”
Mount Pisgah Patriots
Chase Tucker (Sr.) – 24 pts, 1 asst
JoJo Peterson (Sr.) – 17 pts, 7 reb, 3 asst, 4 blk
Kasheem Grady (Jr.) – 10 pts, 4 reb, 1 asst
Nate Gordon (Sr.) – 8 pts, 6 reb, 1 asst, 2 blk
Garrett Sutherland (Sr.) – 2 pts, 2 reb
M.J. Winter (Jr.) – 1 pts, 1 reb
Nick Speros (Sr.) – 3 reb, 2 asst
Gabe Carter (Sr.) – 1 asst