By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — A fever associated with a persistent case of strep throat kept Liberty Christian boys basketball coach Jason Chappell from making the trip to Lafayette Jeff with his team Tuesday.
But while the 10th-ranked Lions practiced at the semistate site under the direction of assistant coaches Mike Carey and Ryan Jackson, their leader continued to study Marquette Catholic — the Michigan City-based school that will provide the opposition Saturday at 1 p.m.
"They're definitely a formidable opponent," Chappell said.
Ranked No. 3 in Class 1A, the Blazers (18-6) are led by 6-foot-8 junior Ryan Fazekas. An obvious threat in the paint, Fazekas actually is listed as a small forward and does his share of damage from the perimeter.
He leads the team with 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and already has given a verbal commitment to Providence. Fazekas' size and skill make him a match-up nightmare for most any high school opponent.
"You can't teach (height), but you can defend," Chappell said. "And we have some pretty good defenders."
Senior guard Nathan Flores is second on Marquette Catholic with 12 points per game, and senior Richie Miller averages 11.5 points and a team-high 3.6 assists per outing. Junior Braxton Miller averages 8.6 points and 3.2 assists per game and provides a 3-point threat.
The Blazers have won 10 straight games, dominating the boards in a 79-49 victory against North White in last weekend's regional championship game. Three of Marquette Catholic's six losses came against schools from Illinois, and it hasn't lost to a Class 1A team all year.
Chappell said such a resume is expected this time of year.
"Once you make it to the final four, anyone's good," he said. "This team has a lot of similarities to us. They like to play the style we like to play."
That means an up-tempo attack relying on production from several areas of the team. The Lions got 20 points off the bench in the regional semifinal last weekend against Seton Catholic, and DeShon Gibbs came off the bench to score nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter of the championship game against Lafayette Central Catholic.
Liberty Christian (20-6) ranks eighth in the state with an average margin of victory of 22.1 points — the highest ranking of any team in its class. But there's little doubt Saturday's semistate tilt will be a tight battle.
The winner advances to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to meet either top-ranked Barr-Reeve (25-1) or Clay City (20-6) for the state championship. The Vikings and Eels also tip off at 1 p.m. Saturday in the semistate at Seymour.
This is the fourth semistate appearance for Barr-Reeve, which advanced to the state finals in 2010, 2007 and 2002. Clay City is making its first semistate appearance since 1974, and Marquette Catholic and Liberty Christian never have advanced this deeply into the tournament.
For the Lions, the semistate trip is a sweet reward after back-to-back losses in the regional finals in 2012 and 2013. But they're not ready to stop just yet.
"Anytime people set goals and they don't reach those goals, they're upset," Chappell said. "My guys are goal-oriented. They have a common goal, and that's what we're working hard to accomplish."
Class 1A semistate at Lafayette Jeff Marquette Catholic (18-6) vs. Liberty Christian (20-6) Saturday, 1 p.m. Tickets: $8, available at Liberty Christian's elementary and secondary schools beginning at 8 a.m.