Class 1A Private blog: Mount Pisgah’s college-based model delivers championship results

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Patriots won program’s 1st title in 2021 using next-level practices

At Mount Pisgah, Patriots coach Matt Hixenbaugh runs his program more similarly to that of one at the college level.

The results have translated well in high school.

The Patriots (17-3) are ranked No. 3 in 1A Private and are coming off their first state championship in a program that dates to 1986. It was also Hixenbaugh’s first state title, and it came in his second season — a year after he guided the Patriots to the semifinals, also a program first.

Hixenbaugh, who came to Mount Pisgah after stops in Missouri and Florida, has 356 wins as of Feb. 1, and he’s in his 20th season of coaching. He explains that a lot of his success comes from being resourceful with his vast network of basketball contacts, which includes college coaches, scouts and others.

“I’ve been lucky to send players to college and build relationships through that process,” said Hixenbaugh, who has sent 56 players to the next level. “Coaches love to share and teach, because that’s what we do. I rely on my network to ask questions and grow.”

Like a lot of premier college programs, the Patriots use analytics and film software to break down their play. Those technologies help in areas one would expect, such as points per possession, transition play, scoring runs, how often the team gets to the free-throw line and contested shots, among other trends.

However, the film software also helps pick up what analytics misses.

“We spend time looking at video of their communication and body language,” Hixenbaugh said. “For example, if a player dives on the floor for a ball, the bench is into it and there’s a lot of positivity. You’ll see better ball movement, passing up good shots for great shots and crisp passing into tight pockets. On defense, players get to their rotations a step quicker, anticipate shots and beat the opponent to them so that the other team is shooting the shots we want them to.”

Then there’s the staff itself. Hixenbaugh has four assistants and divides the schedule’s games amongst them so that each has scouting duties for select opponents.

“I brought that process here with me,” he said. “It’s college based. Each assistant has scout duty for their opponents, and they present a plan in practice. It’s great because it gets the coaches even more involved, which is important for the players.”

The Patriots only have one player, senior point guard MJ Winter, who returns from last year’s championship team or, as Hixenbaugh puts it, “From the state championship game, we have zero points on our roster.” Winter was a rotational player last season but is now a key contributor this year along with freshman guard Micah Tucker, senior forward Udochi Osuji and sophomore forward Max Tucker.

Micah Tucker, 6-foot-1, averages a team-high 20 points and seven assists to go with five rebounds.

“He’ll have his choices of places to play,” said Hixenbaugh of Tucker’s college prospects.

Osuji has emerged this season after waiting his turn and playing mostly JV. Max Tucker, at 6-foot-5 and of no relation to Micah Tucker, leads the team in minutes played and is known as the team’s glue for his grit, rebounding ability and the way he runs the floor.

Notable wins for the Patriots this season includes region rival and No. 4 King’s Ridge Christian (twice) and St. Francis, and their only losses were to Holy Innocents’, 6A’s No. 1 Shiloh and Lincoln of Tallahassee, Fla., which is ranked No. 12 in Florida’s 6A according to the MaxPreps computer rankings.

“Our schedule is challenging,” Hixenbaugh said. “We played a lot of large and out-of-state schools to be in a position where we’re forced to play bigger, stronger and more mature teams, because we’re so young playing a freshman and three sophomores a lot. We love the challenge because we want to get better. Our team doesn’t look at itself as the young guys with no experience, which they are, but they’ve done a good job of growing this season and not being intimidated by anybody.”

For the regular season’s final stretch, the Patriots are getting a much needed boost with the return of sophomore guards Michael Pace and Tyson Pittman, who recently returned to action after missing most of the season to injury.

The Patriots are 12-0 in Region 6 play with four games remaining, all against league opponents. In those games, Hixenbaugh said the team will work to fully integrate Pace and Pittman.

“We’re going to talk to the players about sacrificing and changing their roles,” he said. “We’ve been slim when it comes to depth, and now we have more, so it’s about getting all the pieces to fit. That’s our mantra — every piece to the puzzle, no matter how big or small, is equally important to our success. By now everyone knows their strengths and weaknesses and we play to those, so now it’s about getting (Pace and Pittman) more involved.”

Hixenbaugh said he hasn’t spoken to the team about repeating as champs because he prefers to stay in the present, but said the goal for the Patriots is to be the last team playing at the end of the season, and that they’re excited to defend their title.

“You compete for the challenge of playing your best when it matters the most,” he said. “As a competitor, it brings out the best in you, and your true character shows. When times get challenging, it’s about rising to the occasion and behaving the right way.”