The record books will show that Upson-Lee won its second straight state championship and extended its winning streak to 63 games. It will not show the obstacles the Knights endured in the process.
Despite having three regulars arrested earlier this week and unable to play, Upson-Lee was able to eventually wear down a game St. Pius team and come away with a 70-54 victory in a rematch of last year’s title game on Saturday at Georgia Tech.
“We knew we were going to be shorthanded,” Upson-Lee coach coach Darrell Lockhart said. “Everybody worked very hard. It was very positive. We had the best week of practice we’ve had all year the last two days it showed in the second half.
“We put it in the back of our minds. We said we’re going to go with what we’ve got. We’ve got enough. Everybody just chip in a little extra and we’ll be fine. And we had people step up.”
Upson-Lee senior Tye Fagan, the reigning Class AAAA player of the year, led the Knights with 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. He walked off the floor with the championship trophy.
“Everybody has adversity throughout their life,” Fagan said. “That’s what makes you.”
He was far from a one-man show and three juniors played key roles. Jarrett Adderton added 16 points, five rebounds and five assists. Zyrice Scott had 14 points and five assists. Travon Walker had 11 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“It’s very special. It’s a blessing,” Fagan said. “Especially since we all grew up in the same area. We don’t have any transfers. We’re all family and it was special to do it together.”
St. Pius (28-4) was led by Everett Lane with 11 points. Zach Ransom scored nine and Troy Stephens and Matthew Gonzalo each added eight points.
The game was played before a sellout crowd that was equally divided between the two sides, both of them vocal and supportive. Ticket demand was so high that the fire marshal stopped the sale of tickets midway between the preceding girls championship game.
St. Pius came out of the gate fast, but Upson-Lee used a 9-3 run and took a 13-12 lead with a layup at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter was another series of runs. With the game tied 25-25, St. Pius reeled off eight straight, including a pair of 3-pointers from Lane. But Upson-Lee responded by scoring seven straight and finished the half with a Fagan layup that left St. Pius with a 33-32 halftime lead.
Upson-Lee began to pull away in the third quarter. The Knights closed the third quarter with a 12-4 run, finishing with a jumper by Anderson that gave them a 48-42 lead.
The momentum carried over in the fourth quarter. Upson-Lee outscored St. Pius 20-3 to start the quarter and never gave the Golden Lions an opportunity to get back in the game.
Upson-Lee outrebounded St. Pius 43-28 and limited the Golden Lions to 31.3 percent from the field – just 22.2 percent in the fourth quarter.
“The fourth quarter we stopped settling for 3s,” Fagan said. “We were getting to the paint and we wore them down and got what we wanted.”