Red Devils survive scare
Sesser-Valier edges rival Christopher, 46-44

– Although the Sesser-Valier Red Devils led for most of their regional semifinal matchup on Tuesday night, they were never really comfortable.

But like most good teams that have been through a lot of close games, the hosts managed to make enough “feel good” plays when they counted.

Senior leader Tyler Winchester was held to just 10-points on the night but he scored on a cut to the basket to give the Red Devils a 45-44 lead with :33.7 seconds left.

With Christopher in possession of the ball, Sesser-Valier sophomore Garrett Gunter jumped out and deflected a pass on the defensive end, as he dove for the ball and got fouled.

He made the first of a 1-and-1 opportunity which gave his team a 46-44 lead with just :04.9 remaining.

However the drama of the night wasn't over just yet.

Christopher snagged the rebound off of Gunter's missed second shot and the Bearcats got a 35-foot off-balanced shot attempt by junior guard Gabe Motsinger.

The heave from the lefty just inside the half court line would have counted had it found the mark.

But the attempt fell short as time expired.

Coach Shane Garner saw his club advance to the regional title game on Friday night where they will face either Steeleville or Elverado, who will play Wednesday night.

“And this is more than just a regional semifinal. We know each other extremely well and this is a rivalry game and both teams are going to get after it,” said Coach Garner. “We expected nothing less tonight.”

Like a pesky little brother who won't leave you alone, the Bearcats were a bothersome bunch to the hosts.

Using a “Box-and-One” zone defense meant to shutdown Winchester, Coach Eric Stallman's game plan was similar to what they employed in their most recent game with the Red Devils, a 52-46 loss at home back on February 12.

Motsinger was in charge of being “the pest” to Winchester and the junior blanketed the S-V guard for most of the contest.

“Gabe Motsinger did a tremendous job on him (Winchester) tonight, he held him to 10-points and he got six of them late,” said Coach Stallman. “But he (Winchester) got loose one time there at the end on a back screen. But we needed to get better help on that screen.”

However it was the other end of the floor that ended up being the Bearcats “Waterloo” as they committed too many offensive mistakes (15 turnovers) throughout in the game and some crucial miscues in the final minutes.

Christopher finished its season at 12-18 while the Red Devils advanced as they improved to 23-6.

“We had those two turnovers late, taking the ball out of bounds and then on top at the end, but that is part of it,” said Coach Stallman. “They (Sesser-Valier) are a good team. They earn those (wins) by doing good things late. They guarded. When you can guard teams you can do things like that.”

The Red Devils were led by Winchester and junior guard Peyton Bates with 10-points each.

Senior's Eli Gunter and Seth Boles chipped in eight and seven points.

Despite Winchester not being involved early as he was blanketed by Motsinger, the Red Devils got an early lead as his teammates picked up some slack.

Boles and Eli Gunter both hit big shots (five points each) in the first quarter as the Red Devils managed a 14-9 lead at the first horn.

Boles scored his early as the 6-foot-3 forward scored on a fast break and added a 3-pointer from the left corner for an early 5-2 lead.

Eli Gunter and his brother Garrett then produced a 7-2 Red Devils run to close the first quarter.

Eli scored on a drive in the paint and, after Garrett hit two free throws, the senior Gunter nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing that beat the buzzer for a six-point spread.

Sesser-Valier was on the brink of putting the Bearcats away in the second quarter as they got their largest lead of the evening with another 7-2 burst.

Buckets by Bates and Boles, followed by a 3-pointer from junior guard Logan Kirk, gave the Devils a 21-11 lead with 3:22 left before the half.

With just 1:29 left in the second quarter, Winchester scored his first points of the night on a jumper near the foul line.

A bucket by Bates with :04 left in the quarter gave the hosts a 27-17 halftime lead.

Despite their top scorer being held in check, Sesser-Valier was in command.

Christopher managed to keep the game within its sights in the third quarter.

Both Motsinger and freshman Mason Goins hit 3-pointers while both Garver and Motsinger closed out the stanza with baskets as they trailed just 37-29 heading to the final eight minutes.

Christopher made its move at the beginning of the fourth quarter, a scoring spree that put a serious scare into the hosts.

The Bearcats went on an 11-2 run to take the lead.

Goins opened the sprint with a pair of free throws.

Then Garver and Motsinger converted drives to the basket.

The Motsinger score occurred after a Sesser-Valier turnover.

After a Winchester score on an assist from Eli Gunter, Coach Stallman got a huge lift from freshman guard Colin Sveda.

The 5-foot-6 guard nailed a 3-pointer right in front of the Bearcats' bench.

Christopher got its first lead since the first quarter when Motsinger scored off of yet another turnover by the Red Devils on a fast break to force a S-V timeout at 40-39 with 3:40 remaining.

Both Boles and Winchester scored for Sesser-Valier, as did Motsinger which set the stage for a frantic final moments at 43-42 S-V with 2:15 left.

The two clubs combined for nine turnovers (S-V with five) in the final quarter.

The Bearcats had the ball after a timeout at mid-court with under a minute left.

But senior forward Bryce Pratt was called for a violation off of a spot inbound as he moved off of his spot, which gave the ball back to Sesser-Valier with the lead.

Subsequently, the Red Devils turned the ball right back over to Christopher as Motsinger stepped in front of Winchester to steal the ensuing inbounds pass.

He was fouled by Winchester and the junior guard calmly made both free throws for a 44-43 lead.

The Bearcats now just needed a defensive stop. One more stop to claim the upset.

However the Red Devils worked the ball on a set offensive play and got the ball to Winchester on the low blocks after a back screen got him open.

His bucket gave Sesser-Valier back the lead for good.

Christopher worked the ball for a final shot but Garrett Gunter's defensive play saved what would have been a shocking first round exit on their home floor for Sesser-Valier.

“We played really well tonight. We played well the last time we played them and took them to overtime. I felt really good about having the ball late. We were going to take it down to the end and try to win it right there. We were going for the win,” said Coach Stallman. “We figured us being on the road and them being the number one seed, we got the ball in our hands with :12 left, that's what you want. You want a shot.”

The Bearcats got a game best 15-points from Motsinger and 10-points from Garver in the loss.

“We talked after the game about there are obviously some things we didn't do well tonight and we have to do better if we want to keep winning,” said Coach Garner. “The bottom line is that we talked about it and we did survive. Tomorrow we will come out with a better attitude and get better from here on out.”

Statistically speaking, the game was as close in the charts as it was on the scoreboard.

Christopher ended up 16-of-31 overall, 4-of-12 from the 3-point arc.

Coach Stallman's club was also a perfect 8-of-8 from the foul line.

The Red Devils ended up 17-of-36 with 3-of-8 from long range.

Sesser-Valier held a slight 16-12 rebounding edge and the hosts committed 12-turnovers compared to the 15 by the 'Cats.

“A lot of it gets looked over now because we have four classes but it is always special to play for a regional championship. And especially important that we can play in front of our own fans on our own court,” said Coach Garner.

Christopher (44) – Sveda 0 1 0-0 3, Garver 5 0 0-0 10, Motsinger 5 1 2-2 15, Hawkins 1 0 2-2 4, Pratt 0 1 2-2 5, Goins 1 1 2-2 7, Mazur 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-12, 3FG-4, FT-8-8, PF-13.

Sesser-Valier (46)
– Woodland 0 0 2-2 2, Winchester 5 0 0-0 10, E. Gunter 1 1 3-4 8, G. Gunter 1 0 4-6 6, Kirk 0 1 0-0 3, Bates 5 0 0-0 10, Boles 2 1 0-1 7, Eubanks 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-14, 3FG-3, FT-9-13, PF-18.

Fouled Out
– None.
Technical Fouls
– None.