WEST, Texas — While Head Coach David Ervin and the Gladiators used lock-down defense in the fourth quarter to reach the area round of the UIL 2A playoffs, they used maximum effort on offense to get out.
Italy used a 30-6 first quarter run against Mart High School on Friday night to earn a 31-point area round victory and move into the regional quarterfinal round for the first time six years.
"Against Lovelady, we clamped down and got stops late in fourth quarter that helped to seal the game for us and our defense at times caused three or four turnovers in a row that energized our transition offense," Ervin said. "Against Mart, we pressured them and took the ball out of their two best players hands because we felt they couldn't handle our speed or depth. Because of that defensive intensity and the success from it, we were able to press for 32 minutes and keep them boys fresh throughout the game."
During Mart's biggest quarter — the third — they scored 16 points and were led by leading scorers Elijah Green (19 pts) and Jalon Kirven (14 pts). In the remaining three, the eight boys on the roster accumulated only 23 points.
Kirven scored 12 of his total in the third quarter.
"I believe the in-game adjustments we make help us play at a faster pace and ultimately was the difference between starting slowly in the first quarter and sprinting to an early lead," Ervin said. "It also helps to have everyone on the same defensive page and the effect of every player contributing on both ends. While I think its hard for any team just to take away two leading scorers, that's not the case with us. We are balanced across the board regardless of whether it's Keith (Davis II), Kevin (Johnson), Kendrick or Kenneth (Norwood) or any of our other players."
While Mart succumbed to the Gladiators' pressurized zone, though, Italy struck time and time again with the game's fearsome fivesome of Davis II, Johnson, Christian Lightfoot, Jeremiah Thompson and Tylan Wallace. Davis II, a senior guard, led all players with 20 points.
The secondary slice of the Italy broadsword, however, came from seemingly every angle. Lightfoot scored 11 points in the post, both Thompson and Wallace had nine points apiece from fearless drives and open jump shots and Johnson added seven with a combination of all three.
Italy is set to face Big Sandy High School at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Centerville High School Gymnasium during the regional quarterfinal of the UIL postseason.
Head Coach Kevin Foster and the Wildcats, the unranked District 20-2A No. 2 seed, knocked off Texas Association of Basketball Coaches No. 15 Kerens High School in the bi-district round and blew out Riesel High School 73-58 on Friday night to earn third round berth. The Gladiators are state ranked at No. 13.
If Italy can topple Big Sandy, they will be three games from a state championship title not seen since the turn of the century.
"I believe that it will be big for the city of Italy just because it's been a while since it's happened and they love their Gladiators," Ervin said. "There have been some really good teams over last 20 years and this year's team has a chance to make some good things happen."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.