When Harrison Zeigler arrived at Aquinas a year ago, his goal was to snag a state championship within three seasons. On Friday the Fighting Irish cut a year off the timeline, beating St. Francis 65-60 to win the Class AA boys championship at Georgia Tech.
“When I got there last year, I set goals and wanted to win one by Year Three,” Zeigler said. “We got one this year and now we can try to build on that, build a tradition. It only takes one, then we can get another one and another one.”
It wasn’t easy. Aquinas led by 11 points with 7:07 remaining, but St. Francis cut the lead to one point on Dwon Odom’s 3-pointer with 48.7 seconds left. After making a pair of free throws to push the lead back to three points, the Irish breathed a sigh of relief when St. Francis missed a couple of 3-pointers that would have tied the game.
“I have never felt nerves like that at the end of the game, knowing the state championship was on the line and it was my senior year,” Aquinas center Tre Gomillion said.
Gomillion did much of the heavy lifting. He scored 16 points, making 6 of 9 from the field, and had a game-high 14 rebounds, all defensive caroms. Dajuan Hill was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor and scored 15 points. Daniel Parrish added 14 points and Trent Bowdre scored 10 points with five assists.
St. Francis (27-4) got 22 points from Dwon Oom, 18 points from CJ Riley and 10 points from Chase Ellis.
St. Francis came out hot from the perimeter and hit three 3-pointers en route to building an 11-3 lead.
Aquinas went on a 12-4 run and tied the game on a pair of Cam Gardner free throws with 3:38 left in the half. But St. Francis closed the half with an 8-1 flurry, including a jumper at the buzzer from Dwon Odom and led 33-26 at intermission.
“The way they were shooting it, I kept saying there’s no way they can keep making all those shots,” Zeigler said. “That’s emotion. They hit their first 6-7-8 shots and they were contested and tough shots, but they were making it.”
Zeigler encouraged his team to stick with the plan and continue to play hard on defense.
“I said stick with it, stick with it,” he said. “They’ll start missing and when they start missing, they’ll get frustrated.”
Gomillion said, “We had to play together, commit to our defense and execute plays. The first half, I’ll put the blame on me. We didn’t execute plays, we didn’t make smart plays.”
The third quarter was different. Aquinas outscored St. Francis 25-9 and never trailed again.
“It was up and down,” Zeigler said. “I knew once it got to four or five points, we were going to win the game because we play defense. We tried to give it away at the end, but I’m glad. I’m happy.”