CENTRALIA — When it mattered most, Marion’s defense rose to the occasion.
The Wildcats trapping 1-2-2 zone seemed to keep Columbia off balance all night, resulting in 18 turnovers and a 49-41 win over the Eagles in the Centralia Class 3A sectional.
Marion seemed to be firmly in control of the game from the opening minutes of the second quarter through the final seconds of the third. Jaden Lacy’s baseline jumper in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter gave the Wildcats a 39-26 lead.
However, Columbia’s Jon Peterson closed the third quarter scoring with a conventional three-point play. That started a 10-0 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. When Drew Worley hit a 3-pointer at 5:01 of the fourth the deficit was just 39-36.
That’s when Marion tightened the screws again. Two Columbia turnovers stopped the momentum.
“We had some very timely turnovers when we could have gotten it back to one possession or could have tied the ballgame, we turned it over,” said Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom. “There were a couple times my kids were in trouble and I didn’t take time out, so I take part of that blame.
“We’ve won close ballgames and we’ve lost close ballgames. It’s usually one or two possessions and we made errors on those one or two possessions tonight.”
“We haven’t played that way for 10 or 12 games, but we felt like that was the best plan against them, to go 1-2-2 and trap them a little bit more,” said Marion coach Gus Gillespie. “We go from game-to-game, I’m glad our kids were very active in it.”
Columbia cut the Marion lead to two points twice in the final three minutes on buckets by Jordan Holmes, but the Wildcats always responded.
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“You have to give some credit to Jordan Holmes,” Gillespie said. “You talk about some tough shots. He showed some great athleticism.”
The Wildcats pushed their lead back to 45-41 with 1:30 to play when Terrell Henderson scored from close range. The Marion defense rose to the occasion one last time, forcing another turnover.
This one resulted in Justin Saddoris sinking a pair of free throws to give Marion a 47-41 advantage with just 51.4 to play.
“The turnovers we did have against the half court trap were very, very timely,” Sandstrom said. “They were very, very devastating situations.”
The Eagles were without the services of Holmes for most of the second quarter. Columbia’s leading scorer picked up his third foul with just 3.9 remaining in the first quarter.
“It’s the first time all year we’ve had adversity like that with Holmes in foul trouble,” Sandstrom said. I mean we had all the momentum. They got off to a good start. We climbed back.
“We hadn’t faced adversity like that all season where Jordan had been in foul trouble, he’d been really smart. I really thought that was a big difference in the game tonight. He’s a lot for us.”
By the same token, the Wildcats lost Saddoris for a time in the second half after he was poked in the eye.
Saddoris led all scorers with 22 points. Holmes finished with 20.
“We couldn’t keep Saddoris out of the paint,” Sandstrom said. “That was the difference. That was one of the main keys we had. We just couldn’t do it unfortunately. I thought we matched up well. I thought it would be an even ball game. Unfortunately, we faced most of the adversity tonight when we were chasing.”
Marion, 21-11, will face Centralia or East St. Louis in Friday’s sectional final.
On Twitter: @LesWinkeler