ELIZABETHTOWN — The Goreville Blackcats are in uncharted territory.
The Goreville gymnasium is draped with banners depicting the exploits of the baseball team, the girls basketball and softball teams. Boys basketball was not represented.
That changed Friday night when Goreville knocked off Sesser-Valier 48-44 at the Hardin County Class 1A Sectional. It was the first boys basketball sectional title in school history.
The Blackcats play Central A&M in the Class 1A Super-Sectional at the SIU Arena at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“I’m glad I get a banner on the wall finally, a banner for boys basketball,” said a jubilant Goreville coach Todd Tripp. “It feels good. I didn’t know how it would feel, it feels good.”
There was nothing easy about the win. The Blackcats trailed 26-20 at the half.
Goreville opened the second half with a statement, going on a 9-0 run. Tanner Dunn scored from the low post just 11 seconds into the half.
“We ran a set and scored,” Tripp said. “We wanted to set the tone. Dunn didn’t get to play too much the first half, he had two fouls.”
The Blackcats continued to pound the ball inside as Braden Webb and Peyton Massey scored on layups. Dunn capped the drive with a putback bucket.
But, it wasn’t the Goreville offense that turned the tide. It was the Blackcats’ lockdown defense. Sesser-Valier scored just six points in the first 12 minutes of the second half, both on 3-pointers by Preston Launius.
“We won it with our defense,” Tripp said. “That’s something we haven’t been known for. We’ve been known for putting up some points. Our defense is so much better now. It’s probably the best it’s ever been.
“We did a better job this time, more than the three times we played them before in terms of how we were going to guard people. We guarded them differently than we did the three times before. That showed tonight.”
Tripp said the Blackcats focused on Sesser-Valier’s Tyler Winchester. He had 11 points in the first half, but just two after intermission.
“We just, we had opportunities,” said Sesser-Valier coach Shane Garner. “We couldn’t make a shot, missed free throws and had layups. It just seemed they came down and made some shots, got extra rebounds. They made plays the second half.
“It was one of those things. We had looks at the rim and couldn’t put it in the hole. We had open looks and couldn’t get anything to fall. They made the extra plays at the other end and converted. That’s the game right there.”
The Blackcats outscored Sesser-Valier 16-3 in the third quarter to take a 36-29 lead into the fourth. Gorevillle’s lead ballooned to 11 midway through the quarter before Sesser-Valier battled back. The Red Devils hurt themselves with three turnovers in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I thought we got a little shaken once they started seeing the time and score, it kind of shook us a little bit,” Garner said. “The way we’ve been playing, we haven’t played from behind in a while. We did a little in the regional championship, but we made shots to come out of it. Tonight we missed shots. That’s what it comes down to.”
In the end, the Blackcats got the stops they needed.
“I told our guys they had to match their intensity,” Tripp said. “I felt our athleticism was better than theirs. If we could match intensity with them, and in a sectional final, why wouldn’t you? I felt we’d rise above.”
Launius led Sesser-Valier with 17 points. Winchester had 13.
Dunn and Webb each scored 13 for the 22-11 Blackcats.