CARBONDALE — It’s probably only fitting that longtime South Seven Conference rivals from Marion and Carbondale will meet up for a regional championship on Friday.
The teams split their regular season series with each winning on the other’s home floor.
Both squads earned victories Tuesday in the semifinals of the Carbondale Class 3A Regional.
Marion defeated Benton, 77-53, in the nightcap. Carbondale held off Massac County for a 54-47 win in the early game.
Justin Saddoris scored 28 of his game-high 32 points in the first three quarters of Marion’s win. The Wildcats (19-11) held a double-digit lead for nearly all of the second half.
“I thought our seniors were really locked in and ready to play,” said Marion coach Gus Gillespie. “(Saddoris) had a big night. He was ready to play and distribute the basketball. Benton is awfully hard to guard. They can spread you out, and they can all shoot it. Our kids had to guard as hard as they’ve had to because I was very concerned about Benton’s kids.”
Benton got off to a good start. Gehrig Wynn and Carson Lewis buried 3-pointers as the Rangers opened up a 10-6 lead. It didn’t last long.
Cole Schafer banked in a jump shot. Saddoris and Jaden Lacy sank 3-pointers, and Marion used a 10-0 run to take a six-point lead.
Wynn was huge for the Rangers. He scored 20 points and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 22-all halfway through the second quarter.
But Marion finished the first half on a 10-1 run. Saddoris and Schafer made triples to close out the first 16 minutes of action.
“Here’s the deal, Benton is a heck of a team and a team that won 25 games,” Gillespie said. “I’ve got the utmost respect for the way their kids play and how well-coached they are by Coach (Ron) Winemiller, a great friend of mine. His kids had a little off night, and our kids had an on night. We kind of dialed in tonight.”
Saddoris hit a couple more 3-pointers, and Lacy scored on a drive to the rim as Marion built an 18-point cushion late in the third quarter.
Parker Williams added 17 points for the Rangers (25-6). Lacy contributed 17 points for Marion.
Darius Beane racked up 18 points during Carbondale’s win over Massac County in the first game of the evening.
Joe Hosman’s Patriots played the Terriers tough and kept it close in the fourth quarter. After Beane picked up a steal and dunked on the other end to give Carbondale a 38-34 lead with 5:40 left in the game, Massac County responded.
Noah Taylor drilled a 3-pointer to cut the Terriers lead to just one. But Clayton Greer scored five points during a 7-0 Carbondale run, which gave the Terriers a 45-37 lead with three minutes to go.
“I liked our patience at the defensive end, especially toward the end when they were trying to stall,” said Carbondale coach Jim Miller. “I thought we showed great poise, but we did get anxious toward the end as well and fouled a little bit too much. Every game that we play right now is a grind-it-out game. A game like tonight is no surprise. Massac County is a skilled team that is well-coached and fundamentally sound.”
Taylor made another 3-pointer with one minute left, which cut the Carbondale advantage to 49-44. But the Terriers made 7-of-8 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
“Getting to the free-throw line 22 times was huge,” said Miller, whose team made 17 of those freebies. “We only had four turnovers for the entire game. But we’ve got to do a better job of rebounding because we got beat on the boards tonight, and that doesn’t typically happen to us.”
Isaiah Thompson led Massac County with 12 points, and Taylor added 10. Greer and Jakeba Burleigh tallied 11 points apiece for Carbondale (21-7).