Marietta head basketball coach Austin Gardner and his team got a very special motivational message via face time before they took on Athens Tuesday night in front of a jam-packed Sutton Gymnasium.
That message came from 16-year old Ashton Harris, a member of the Tiger basketball team who is currently being treated for AML (acute myelocytic leukemia.)
On a night where Harris and his family were being supported by both the Marietta and Athens communities as the majority of the crowd sported T-shirts supporting his journey and a fundraiser for his family took place in the lobby prior to the game, his message to his teammates provided plenty of motivation as the Tigers rolled to a 66-40 victory.
Harris had been in the Athens school system prior to last spring when he transferred to Marietta making Tuesday nights clash between the two schools an opportune time for the fund-raiser which was on pace to exceed $20,000 according to MHS athletic director Cody Venderlic at the end of the night.
“This was beyond basketball…. the attendance tonight wasn’t because of our basketball team. It was about one person and his family,” said Gardner. “That just shows how a couple of communities can come together for something way bigger than a rivalry game and make such a difference for such an important cause.”
The Tigers had already downed Athens on the road earlier in the season but had a bit of trouble shaking the pesky Bulldogs in the first quarter as they played to an 11-11 tie.
After a sluggish start offensively, the Tigers began to click in the second quarter as they as they went on an 11-1 run capped by a three-pointer from senior guard A.J. Graham to take their first double-digit lead of the game at 22-12.
After a bucket by Luke Mullins got Athens back to within eight, Tiger big man Alex Kendall knocked down a triple to push the lead to 11.
The Bulldogs managed to whittle the lead down to 29-20 at the end of the first half to remain within striking distance of the orange and black.
It wouldn’t take the Tigers long at all to open the second half with a bang and break things wide open.
Graham got things started with a two-pointer followed by a triple and Isaac Koast followed with back-to-back buckets to quickly shove the lead to 18.
The Bulldogs were unable to take much of a chunk out of the lead for the balance of the third quarter as the Tigers carried a 17-point lead into the final quarter.
Kendall’s two-pointer got the final quarter started for the Tigers and the lead swelled to 25 on back to back triples by Koast and sophomore Landon Koscho to put things away for good.
“I didn’t think we were very good defensively to start the game but we got better as they game went along,” said Gardner.
“We had a good size advantage inside with Alex Kendall and I thought he played great and did a lot of good things.”
Kendall led all scorers with 20 points while also yanking down eight boards while Koast and Graham added 12 points apiece for MHS who improved to 8-4 with the win.
Junior Aidan Harris gave the Tigers some strong minutes off of the bench as he added eight points and four boards in limited minutes as he continues to recover from an injury that cost him the majority of the first half of the season.
The Bulldogs, who slipped to 4-11 on the season with the loss, were paced by Nathan Shadik with 15 points and Landon Wheatley with 11.
The Tigers had a special celebration as well when they returned to the locker room after the win as Harris once again face-timed them to offer his congratulations for their win.
“Having Ashton be able to watch and then face time with him was really cool,” said Gardner. “I think he wanted this one more than maybe even some of our guys. Ashton is a huge inspiration to our team and we can’t wait to get him back to Marietta soon.”
Marietta will return to action Friday night when they welcome in Point Pleasant.