CENTRALIA — Cole Schafer’s three-pointer with 0.2 seconds left in overtime gave Marion a 71-68 win over East St. Louis at the Class 3A Centralia boys basketball sectional on Friday.
"We ran that play earlier in the game and it didn’t go in, but it went in when it mattered," Schafer said. "Never count this team out. We came back against Carbondale and did it again tonight. Even though we had some key players foul out tonight we had others step up huge."
The win gave Marion (22-11) its first sectional title in 28 years. The Wildcats move on to the Springfield Super-Sectional to play Springfield Southeast on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
"These kids have no quit in them," said Marion coach Gus Gillespie. "Early on East Side looked really, really good, but we didn’t quit. This was a heck of a game."
Marion trailed by 12 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but rallied with a 14-2 run to tie the game 48-48 on a layup by Justin Saddoris with 4:39 remaining. Saddoris led all scorers with 20 points.
"I felt there was always a chance, and we just continued to make big plays," Gillespie said.
East St. Louis (16-11) came back and led by three with 25 seconds remaining, but Jackson Connor scored on a putback and Boston Ziegler tied the score with nine seconds remaining when the junior drew a foul and made his first free throw, but missed his second.
The Flyers called a timeout and missed a three-point attempt, and Eric Rodgers’ rebound shot came after the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Connor gave the Wildcats the early lead in overtime on a layup down the lane while being fouled, but he missed the free throw. After the Flyers tied the score, Connor went back to the line and made his first, but missed his second to give Marion a one-point lead with 3:01 remaining.
Terrance Hargrove then stole the ball and scored while also being fouled, and made the free throw to give the Flyers a 67-65 lead. Connor then went back to the line, but missed both free attempts to leave the Wildcats down by two with 2:34 left.
Immunique Williams was fouled for the Flyers, and split his free throws to extend the lead to three with 2:10 remaining.
Fourteen seconds later, Jaden Lacy drained a three-pointer from the right corner to tie the score again. East St. Louis then ran 54 seconds off the clock before Rogers was fouled, but the senior missed both his free throws to give the ball back to the Wildcats when Connor pulled down the rebound.
Marion ran the clock down to 10.5 seconds before calling a timeout to set up the final play. When play resumed, Schafer took the inbounds pass and set up in the left corner, and had time to settle his feet and take the shot.
"We’ve got a play we kind of do every once in a while," said Gillespie. "We ran it for Cole and he got loose and got a great look. Probably no one spends more time in the gym by himself shooting the ball, and when I saw it let go I knew it was in. I was thinking all that hard work paid off for the boy."
The ball hit the rim and fell in for the win, giving Marion its first trip to the super since the 1989-90 team. For Schafer, it was his third three-pointer of the game.
"Even though we needed just a two that’s the play we run in practice," Schafer said. "When I let go I just prayed it went in. For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about making history, and tonight we kept it going."
The Wildcats shot just 4-of-12 in the first quarter and 2-of-10 in the second while the Flyers took control, hitting 7-of-11 shots from the field in the first quarter to jump out to a 10-point lead with 1:16 remaining.
Marion cut the lead in half with 3:15 remaining before the half, but Terrance Hargrove canned a three and Eric Rodgers scored on a fast break layup to regain the 10-point 1:12 later. East St. Louis held a nine-point lead at the half.