4A Boys: Upson-Lee 70, St. Pius 54

Upson-Lee capped its second-straight perfect season on Saturday.

ATLANTA — The Upson-Lee Knights arrived at the GHSA basketball championships with one goal in mind: Play hard and play smart basketball. They did exactly what they set out to do and walked away victorious with back-to-back state titles in Class AAAA after defeating St. Pius for the second-straight year. The Knights also completed their second-straight perfect season with the 70-54 victory.

The electric crowd produced noise levels unmatched by any other game so far as the teams took the court. Both teams started off playing fast and physical ball. A layup on a fast break by junior Zach Ranson put the Golden Lions up 9-4, their biggest lead of the first quarter. With 1:40 remaining in the first quarter, the Knights began to chip away at St. Pius’ lead. A three-pointer by Tye Fagan brought the Knights within one point, and Fagan’s layup with 11 seconds left put Upson-Lee on top of St. Pius 13-12 after the first.

With a score of 33-25 in favor of the Golden Lions, the Knights went on to score seven unanswered points to bring them within one point, 33-32, at the half.

“We were nervous the first half, which was expected,” Upson-Lee head coach Darrell Lockhart said of the close game at the half. “We came out strong during the second half. We switched to man-to-man to amp up the pressure.”

The pressure put on the Golden Lions paid off as the Knights outscored the Golden Lions 38-21 during the second half.

Fagan continued to dominate throughout the game, leading his team with 21 points and 10 rebounds. His biggest play came during the third quarter when the Knights found themselves on a six-point run. With the game tied at 38-38, Fagan cut through defenders and hit the go-ahead layup.

Junior center Travon Walker was crucial to the Knights defense. His presence in the post made it nearly impossible to drive to the basket. But during the third quarter, Walker got called for his fourth foul of the game, forcing him to the bench.

“I played alright,” said Walker after the game. “I got in a little bit of foul trouble, but my team stepped up big.” Walker ended the game with 11 points and five huge blocks.

One key player that helped step in for Walker was Lockhart’s son, Alejandro. The senior power forward kept the strong defense intact, racking up two blocks during his time on the court.

“My son came in during the second and did a great job,” Lockhart said. “He played big in the post. That helped seal the victory for us.”

The defensive effort from the Knights helped secure a 21-point lead with 1:17 left in the game. Upson-Lee would run out the clock and prepare to claim its second state title in two years.

Lockhart showed just how much this team, which finished off back-to-back perfect seasons, means to him. “It’s been magical. We had our ups and downs, but we were able to win games. These kids are real special. I love them to death.”

Leading St. Pius in scoring was Everett Lane with 11 points and three rebounds. The Golden Lions bench accounted for 19 of their 54 points.

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