SESSER — Goreville entered the 37th Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament as the second seed.
It almost wound up second in its first game of the four-day event on Tuesday.
Trailing with just under four minutes left, the Blackcats scored eight straight points to regain the lead, then made six straight free throws in the final 54.5 seconds to hold off Marissa-Coulterville 63-58.
“I thought our defense was bad all day, honestly,” Goreville coach Todd Tripp said. “We tried to switch it up on them a little bit, but we have to do a better job, and we have done a better job in recent games. Today, we decided we didn’t have to help for some reason and it caught up with us.”
Braden Webb fired in a game-high 27 points for the Blackcats (7-2), including a 3-pointer with 3:45 left to give them the lead for good at 52-50. It happened eight seconds after a free throw by Blake Steinwagner put the Meteors (4-5) up by a point for just their second lead of the day.
Marissa-Coulterville wiped out an 11-point halftime deficit behind 5-10 junior guard Cameron Bowlby, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half. Most of those came on bold drives off the left wing as Goreville failed to take away his left hand.
The Meteors canned nearly 50 percent of their shots in the second half, getting a spate of open looks off either Bowlby’s penetration or the defense’s inability to close out on shooters after his passes.
“They hit some wide-open shots, but you pat them on the back because they knocked them down,” Tripp said.
But the Blackcats were just a bit better when it mattered. After Webb’s trey, Cole Tosh put back a missed shot for a 54-50 lead with 2:58 left, followed by Tanner Dunn’s 3-point play at the 2:24 mark that made it 57-50.
Marissa-Coulterville made a final push. Austin Gilley drilled a foul-line jumper and Logan Jones, who finished with 13 points, sank two foul shots with 1:03 left to cut the deficit to 57-54.
Goreville answered at the free throw line. Peyton Massey knocked down both ends of a one-and-one for a five-point margin, followed by two foul shots by Dunn that upped the advantage to 61-54. After consecutive buckets by Bowlby, Morgan Bishop converted two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to end the suspense.
Dunn contributed 12 points and three blocked shots for the Blackcats, who will play Steeleville in a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal on Wednesday.
“Steeleville’s a nice team. They’re going to get after us,” Tripp said. “We’ll have to play better than we did today or it won’t be pretty.”