SESSER — There is a placard about five feet tall that lists the 36 previous champions of the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament.
Shane Garner remembers the last Red Devils’ team that won the event.
“I played on that team,” he said of the 2000-01 squad.
Garner is now coaching at his alma mater, and has done things like guide them to a state tournament. But one thing he hasn’t checked off the list is winning his school’s tournament.
Wednesday night’s 77-62 quarterfinal romp over Cobden puts Sesser-Valier a pair of games away. But it will have to earn its 10th tournament championship.
The Red Devils take on Woodlawn, which has captured seven of the last nine titles, at 8 p.m. tonight. Should they knock off the Cardinals, the survivor of the Christopher-Goreville semifinal awaits in Friday night’s championship game.
“We’re biased, but I think we’ve got the best 1A tournament in the state of Illinois,” Garner said. “You look at state tournament appearances and sweet 16 appearances, our tournament has as many as any of them.
“Our kids want to win this tournament.”
They showed it from the outset. Tyler Winchester personally gave Sesser-Valier (7-4) a 10-0 lead in the first 1:43. He canned a perimeter jumper, bombed in a pair of 3s and scored in transition.
Early offense led to tenacious defense. The Red Devils came at the young Appleknockers (9-7) in waves. They pressured the ball, forcing 17 turnovers and a spate of hurried shots.
“They’re a good team and they’ll run a lot of guys at you,” Cobden coach Rhett Barke said. “We’re young and we’re not used to the bumping and grinding. We’re still looking to the officials to get the call. We can learn from this. You have to play through contact sometimes.”
The Appleknockers pulled within seven late in the first half, but Sesser-Valier ended the half with a 13-5 spurt and led 44-29 at intermission. Another quick burst of offense, a 12-1 run to open the third quarter, made it 56-30. The game’s remainder was a slog to the final horn.
Preston Launius added 13 points for the Red Devils, a night after a 22-point, 18-rebound outing in a win over Waltonville. Addison Page contributed 10 points, six rebounds and five steals before fouling out. Sesser-Valier also got 13 points off the bench from Seth Boles.
Joe Brumleve paced Cobden with 14 points and seven rebounds.