Excel Christian Academy ran into a defensive jauggernaut — scoring just three points in the second quarter — and fell 67-40 to Aquinas in the state high school basketball playoffs Wednesday night in Augusta.
The Fighting Irish had jumped out to a 5-2 early lead, and the Eagles came back to tie the score at 5-all.
Then the bottom fell out of Excel’s scoring engine and the Eagles were put into a position of having to play catchup the rest of the game. They did not fare well in that effort.
“[Aquinas] went on a 29-3 run in the first half,” coach Jon-Michael Nickerson said. “They went on that run and just put their stamp on the game after that. You can’t go that long without scoring. We just dug ourselves too deep a hole to climb out of.”
Aquinas had an 18-5 lead after a full quarter of play and that turned into a 34-8 halftime lead. The Fighting Irish outscored Excel 33-32 in the second half, thwarting its comeback effort.
Nickerson said although their season ended in a loss, the Eagles have quite a bit to be proud of.
“It’s the first time we went to the Elite 8,” he said. “We had a great run. This was something we will all remember forever.”
Aquinas got the win by effectively taking Excel out of its game.
“[Aquinas] beat a good team in Excel,” Nickerson said. “When we are playing our game, we’re pretty balanced with good guard and post play. Our forwards do a good job and we stretch the floor. Our role players give us a lot of help and we have a pretty complete team. We weren’t ourselves tonight.”
He said the Eagles now have time to review a successful season that concluded with a 26-3 record.
“We have some time now to reflect on our accomplishments. There’s nothing to hang our heads about.”
He added the Eagles have a set a high mark for other Excel teams to follow.
“People will be chasing after what they accomplished now,” he said. “They should be proud of themselves.”
He said the Eagles were defeated by a very good team.
“We played against a very good team that was prepared and ready to play,” he said. “They also were a little hungrier and they took advantage of every mistake we made.”
Leading Excel in scoring were Elijah Robinson, with 14 points; and Rudy Winters, who dropped in 10 points.
Excel was 12-0 during Region 6A-A play. The Eagles lost just one game during the regular season.