The win earned Marietta (20-5, 11-1) a tie for the region lead with Wheeler (13-10, 11-1). The top seed will be decided Sunday in a coin flip.
For the Wildcats and coach Doug Lipscomb, this is the second straight year they’ve been in this predicament. Last year, Wheeler finished tied with Walton, and Lipscomb lost the coin flip with his counterpart, Joe Goydish.
Friday’s victory also marked the return to prominence for a Marietta program that has struggled the last several years. The Blue Devils went 23-37 in the first two years of the tenure of coach Matt Lyons, who replaced the team’s longtime mentor, Charlie Hood.
“I just talked to coach Hood (Friday) afternoon, and we’re getting (the program) back to where he had it,” Lyons said. “There hasn’t been a bigger win in the three years that I’ve been here. It’s big for the program. Every single kid that’s been in this program the last two years helped build and started laying the foundation with hard work and discipline.”
Marietta was propelled by a big first quarter, in which the Blue Devils hit six 3-pointers and took a 20-11 lead.
Leading that surge was Damon Mitchell, who led Marietta with 30 points, including 18 in the first half. Mitchell had three of the Blue Devils’ six first-quarter 3-pointers.
“He’s so quick and tough to guard,” Lyons said. “He kept going and going. He got some shots from the other guys. He did a great job of leading the team (Friday). That’s what we’ve been coaching him to do, begging him to do. I think (Friday) the light came on. It flickered a couple of times during the season, but (Friday), the light came on.”
Jaylen Hill added 14 points, and Jonathan Fowler had 13 for the Blue Devils.
Wheeler was led by Chuck Mitchell with 20 points, while Jaylen Brown had 11.
Wheeler led 9-5 with 4:32 remaining in the first quarter, when Marietta struck with four consecutive 3-pointers as the Blue Devils began to exploit the Wildcats’ zone defense.
Fowler hit a 3-pointer with 3:54 remaining, and Dansby Swanson followed with a 3 of his own with 2:25 left to give Marietta an 11-9 lead. Fowler and Damon Mitchell then nailed back-to-back 3s to increase the Blue Devils’ advantage to 17-9 with 1:27 left.
Chuck Mitchell ended Marietta’s streak with a layup to cut Wheeler’s deficit to 17-11 with 55 seconds left, but Damon Mitchell hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push Marietta’s lead to 20-11 at the end of the first quarter.
“We got open shots,” Lyons said. “We executed offensively well. I was surprised they zoned us. We haven’t worked much zone all week. We recognized it early. It gave us some problems the first possession or two, because we weren’t quite sure what they were doing, but we executed and we made shots.”
Marietta maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second quarter, leading 28-12 with 5:35 remaining in the first half before it went on to lead 40-29 at halftime. Wheeler managed to get within six points on a couple of occasions in the fourth quarter, but that’s as close as the Wildcats could get.
Marietta 58, Wheeler 34: The seventh-ranked Lady Blue Devils wrapped up an undefeated Region 5AAAAA record and have all the momentum going into next week’s region tournament on their home court.
As the top seed, Marietta (22-3, 12-0) has a bye into the semifinals and has already clinched a spot in the state playoffs. The Lady Blue Devils won’t play again until Friday, when they face the winner of a first-round game between No. 4 Wheeler and No. 5 Etowah.
Jasmine McSwain led Marietta with 17 points, while Courtney Sprague had 13 and Trana Hopkins 10.
Kiana Griffin scored nine points for Wheeler (10-13, 5-6).