Thursday, March 1, 2012
Back-to-back for Patriots
By BARRY BURLESON
Marshall Academy started the season number one and, most importantly, finished that way, too.
The Patriots beat three other members of the top five – Trinity, Central Private and Brookhaven – to claim their second straight Class AA state basketball championship last week.
“Back-to-back is special,” coach Craig Dailey said. “It doesn’t come along very often and it is extremely tough to do.
“We were atop the AA rankings all year and with that comes a lot of added pressure and a big bull’s eye on your back. We got everyone’s ‘A’ game.
“We just beat three of the best AA teams in four nights and they played their best games of the year. That’s a huge testament to the character and heart of this team and in particular my seniors (Andy Burleson, Chase Ferrell, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Kirby Jones) as leaders.”
The Pats upped their record to 36-3 with the three tough victories at Grenada – all coming in somewhat different fashions.
“Our team was disciplined enough to play several different styles,” Dailey said. “Trinity was athletic and well-coached enough to make it an extremely slow-paced game and we found a way to win. Central Private ran with us and we outran them. Brookhaven forced us to guard them on the half court and we out-guarded them.
“In 11 state championships (nine at Delta Academy and two at MA), I can’t remember where the road was this tough to the championship. It was like ‘murderer’s row,’ but we came out on the other side with a very good draw to try and reach that elusive goal (a gold ball at Overall this week).”
The Patriots, trailing 6-0 early and up by one at the half, dominated the second 16 minutes for a 64-50 championship win Saturday night.
“It’s pretty sweet for it to be against the ‘Brookhaven Nation’ that we got the back-to-back against,” Dailey said. “They were a thorn in our side for a while during the developmental years of the program.”
Brad Bennett’s lay-up at the end of the first quarter gave MA its first lead, 14-12.
The Pats went up by as many as six in the second on Aaron McAlexander’s short bank shot but then fell behind again, 23-20, with 2:43 left in the half.
Peyton Lewis and Bennett drilled consecutive threes to put Marshall up for good. It was 26-23 with 1:41 to go before intermission.
The advantage was as many as 12 in the third when Bennett hit another big three.
Then Dakota Dailey, who was 15 of 18 from the free-throw line, calmly sank some big ones down the stretch.
Bennett and Dailey finished with 17 points each. Kevin Fitzpatrick had nine, Lewis eight, McAlexander seven and Chase Ferrell six.
“Dakota was a warrior and a competitor,” Coach Dailey said. “He seems to rise to the occasion. Brad is without a doubt the most-improved kid that’s come through my program. Kevin – what a kid and what an athlete. I’ve never had a better one. What Chase does often goes unnoticed but he is our heart and soul. Man, he can guard. Aaron took it to another level. I love to watch him play basketball at this level. Peyton hit huge shot after huge shot and took their post star on all night one on one. That was a huge factor in our solid defensive effort.”
He also complimented Burleson, a future coach who he called a huge factor in the tournament.
“We sat for two hours the morning of the championship game going over film and strategy,” Dailey said. “If athletic directors out there had any sense they would sign him up now and let him go to work on his degree. He is going to be special on the sideline someday.”
The Patriots survived a slow start with a strong finish and knocked off the Rebels 63-55 in the semi-finals Friday night.
“I felt like this would be the state championship game,” Coach Dailey said, “and for the most part, it was.”
MA started the game with five turnovers.
However, Lewis scored the Patriots’ first six points and helped them go up by five before Central Private hit a half-court shot at the end of the first period to cut it to 12-10.
The Patriots, struggling some in the early going from the free-throw stripe, fell behind 24-21 at halftime.
The deficit increased to as many as six in the third and the hole was 38-35 to start the fourth.
Fitzpatrick scored, was fouled and hit the free throw to put MA on top 43-40 with 5:51 left. The margin was seven at the 2:52 mark when Fitzpatrick scored again.
But the Rebels scratched back to within two at the 2:04 mark.
In the closing seconds, Dailey and Fitzpatrick hit two free throws each and then Bennett closed the game with five straight points.
Dailey and Lewis led the offense with 17 each. Fitzpatrick had 13.
Marshall finished strong from the charity stripe – 13 of 15 in the fourth quarter.
“Dakota put us on his back at times,” the coach said. “Peyton had the game of his career. Kevin put it away in the fourth. Aaron was the ‘X factor’ in the tournament. So many people had no idea how good he could be. Chase’s defense against their Division I basketball star (Simpson Anderson) was the best I have ever had.”
MA vs. Trinity
The Pats struggled in the quarter-finals Wednesday night yet escaped with a 47-44 win over Trinity Episcopal.
“I was nervous as a cat because I knew they were not a normal four seed,” Coach Dailey said. “They had four Division 1 players (football/baseball) and a great coach and tradition.”
MA started just fine – leading 17-5 at the end of the opening period.
But the second quarter was all Saints. They cut their deficit to 24-20.
The Pats were down by as many as three in the third but snatched the lead back for good (32-30) when Ferrell made a steal and passed to Bennett, who scored.
It was 39-34 after three.
Trinity cut it to three a few times in the fourth.
Ferrell hit two huge free throws with 43 seconds left to put Marshall up 47-42.
The Saints sliced it to three again and had two chances to tie it as time was running out but missed two long-range shots.
Dailey and Fitzpatrick scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“Kevin and Dakota had solid games,” Coach Dailey said.
He said Randy Love provided some spark in the third, and McAlexander made big contributions.
“And Chase’s defense on their Vandy (football) signee, Tip McKenzie, was stifling.”
MA played West Memphis Tuesday in the quarter-finals of the Overall Tournament. With a win, a semi-final game will follow Friday at 6 p.m. at Mississippi College in Clinton. The title game is Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“I want to give a huge shout out to the MA family for their support all week,” Dailey said. “Our student section was tremendous and their affection chants were the most humbling I’ve ever had.
“I am so proud of this school and this community. My family and I are honored to be a part of it.”
Named to the all-tournament team were Fitzpatrick, Dailey, Lewis and Bennett.
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