Sesser-Valier reaches sectional final
Red Devils close game on 16-4 run, will play Goreville Friday night

– When it comes to important minutes in important games in important tournaments, the teams that managed to keep their composure are the ones who end up advancing.

Emotionally and mentally it's “when preparation meets opportunity.”

The senior led Sesser-Valier Red Devils on Wednesday night kept their cool throughout their sectional semifinal against Cairo in front of a large crowd at Oxford Gymnasium at Hardin County High School.

And they took advantage of a late game situation.

With 4:01 remaining in the fourth quarter with semifinal tied at 46-46, a foul was called on the Pilots' Darren Halliburton near mid-court.

Immediately after the foul was issued, a technical foul was called on Cairo senior guard Damarius Taylor.

It turned out to be Taylor's fifth foul, which disqualified him from the game.

Sesser-Valier junior guard Tyler Winchester toed the foul line and canned the first two shots of a one-and-one from the initial foul and then he calmly nailed both technical foul shots to give the Red Devils a four-point lead.

Moments later as Sesser-Valier got the ball after the technical, S-V found senior guard Joshua Gunter open in the left corner and his 3-pointer, just :19 after the technical foul, found the mark to finish a 7-0 play.

His backbreaking trey gave the Red Devils a 53-46 lead.

This began a 16-4 final run that gave Sesser-Valier a 62-50 victory.

Without their potential all-stater (Taylor) on the floor, Cairo was 0-of-9 in the last 3:29 from the field as its season came to an abrupt end at 23-6.

The Red Devils are in the sectional final for the third time in the four-class era and will face a familiar foe on Friday night.

Black Diamond Conference cohort Goreville won Tuesday night's semifinal over Webber Township so the two division rivals will meet for a fourth time this season.

The Red Devils have won 2-of-3 from the Blackcats, both conference wins while the loss was in the title game of the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament back in December.

“How cool is it that two Black Diamond teams get to play in a sectional final?” said Coach Garner. “Todd is a very good friend of mine and a very great competitor and we are looking at coming out to compete like we have the other three games we played them. It is going to be a fun game.”

As for the semifinal victory, the statistical factors of this contest swung the way of the Red Devils on this night, a difference that proved costly to the ABV top-ranked 1A Cairo squad.

The Pilots, normally an efficient team on offense, struggled from the floor as they hit just 18-of-50 field goals overall (36 percent) while committing 21-turnovers.

They were just 7-of-22 from the 3-point arc.

A possession late in the game where they desperately needed a basket epitomized the night that the Pilots had.

Cairo missed five consecutive shots on one trip down the floor.

They gathered all five missed shots with offensive rebounds. But the end result was a foul on the Red Devils and just one made free throw by Cairo.

It was the final point scored in their season as they fell from state tournament contention.

The Pilots played without one of their team leaders, sophomore guard Fairleigh Ward, who was hurt during the Woodlawn game and then re-injured his hip in the regional.

“I thought it was a very physical game and we missed a lot of shots that we normally make. We missed our floor leader out there tonight (Fairleigh Ward) but that isn't an excuse,” said Coach Wood. “We made a good run but we wore down late. We were playing some kids that normally don't play those positions playing them tonight.”

On the other hand, Sesser-Valier shot the ball well and, in the second half, they took care of the ball much better than they did early on.

The Red Devils hit 22-of-41 from the field (53.6 percent).

Although Cairo out-rebounded the Devils, they failed to convert on many of their chances.

Cairo held a 25-17 rebounding edge, with 15 of the boards on the offensive glass.

The Pilots were just 7-of-13 from the free throw line while Sesser-Valier was 13-of-18.

Joshua Gunter, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, stepped up for the Red Devils on this night and hit some key shots in the win.

He ended up the top scorer for the Red Devils with 16-points as he hit three 3-pointers, one early on in the first quarter and the “dagger” in the fourth quarter.

Winchester tossed in 12-points, with an 8-of-8 performance from the foul line included.

“He (Winchester) has so much confidence shooting the ball and he wants to be in that situation,” said Coach Garner. “And I guarantee you in his backyard he has hit numerous shots like (free throws) that and tonight he steps up and hits four-straight. Then Josh hits the three and that was the best thing for us there.”

Senior Preston Launius added 11-points and Peyton Rock came off the bench for S-V to provide nine-points.

Lukas Gunter, another of the senior vets, added eight-points as the balance that Coach Shane Garner has seen all season long continued when the Devils needed it.

For Cairo, Taylor had 18-points as he closed out his prep career on a sour note.

Senior forward Malachi Brown ended up with 13-points as those two were the only Pilots in double-figures in points.

The ABV nominee for the “Understatement of the Year” is the following.

The first half of the Cairo/Sesser-Valier game was difficult to watch.

The two teams combined for 27-turnovers. That is not a typo.

If the first quarter was a baby's face, it would one “that only a mother could love.”

Of the 25 first quarter possessions by both squads, there were 17-turnovers (Cairo 9, S-V 8).

Mercifully it ended with the Red Devils up 10-8.

Sesser-Valier got a bit of separation in the early going of the second quarter when Lukas Gunter hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Devils a 15-10 lead.

Cairo got their transition game going finally as they got a fast break dunk by Brown as he was fouled on the play.

But teammate Daurice Morse was called for a technical foul for taunting.

Brown missed his free throw and then Winchester nailed both technical foul shots for a 17-12 lead.

Sesser got another 3-pointer from Joshua Gunter and a bucket by reserve Seth Boles for a 24-16 lead.

However Cairo closed the half with eight-straight points to tie the game at halftime.

Taylor nailed a 3-pointer from the left side of the arc and Halliburton converted a three-point play.

A fast break lay in by Taylor with 2:06 left in the half closed the second quarter scoring as the two teams were tied 24-24 at the break.

Cairo got the lead in the third quarter as Taylor scored five-straight points on 3-of-4 free throws sandwiched around a drive to the basket for a 32-28 lead, its biggest of the night.

But moments later, Taylor was whistled for his third personal foul, on a charge, which sent him to the bench with 4:37 left.

“Our three keys coming in were, take charges, box out and take care of the basketball and hats off to our guys for sacrificing their bodies taking charges, letting them (Cairo) run them over,” said Coach Garner.

In his absence, Sesser-Valier took back the lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Baskets by Winchester, Rock, Launius and Boles made it 38-34 heading to the final eight minutes to decide the sectional semifinal.

The two clubs traded leads five times before the technical foul changed the momentum.

Launius came up with three important baskets with his final bucket of the three tying the score at 46-all.

“Josh Gunter made some huge 3's for us and Preston hit some shots we needed when we were down four in the fourth quarter,” said Coach Garner. “That is what seniors do, they want to keep playing and they did what they needed to do tonight.”

The technical foul on Taylor was the opening that Sesser-Valier needed to take control to get to the Sweet 16 game to be played on Friday.

The two teams played each other at the Du Quoin Tip-Off Classic in the first game of the season for both teams back on November 27 with Cairo winning 71-64.

“We knew that it would be that way early (sloppy) and we knew there would be silly turnovers and the ball would be bouncing all over the place. But we just kept preaching to the kids 'just keep it close' in the fourth quarter and that is where we will shine,” said Coach Garner. “And thank the Lord that is what happened. We were able to execute and then knock down some free throws. I thought we took care of the ball better in the second half.”

Cairo's promising season ended with a disappointing loss.

“We missed enough shots in the first quarter (2-of-11) to be up 15 and in the fourth quarter we had the people taking the shots that we needed to take them, but they just didn't fall for us,” said Coach Wood. “This time of year when you have a flat game, you go home.”

Sesser-Valier (62) – J. Gunter 3 3 1-2 16, L. Gunter 2 1 1-4 8, Winchester 2 0 8-8 12, Launius 4 1 0-0 11, Rock 3 0 3-4 9, Boles 2 0 0-0 4, Page 1 0 0-0 2.
2FG-17, 3FG-5, FT-13-18, PF-15.

Cairo (50) – Vaughn 0 0 0-0 0, Jones 0 1 0-0 3, Taylor 3 3 3-5 18, M. Brown 5 0 3-7 13, Halliburton 3 0 1-1 7, I. Brown 0 2 0-0 6, Williams 0 0 0-0 0, Nelson 0 1 0-0 3, Bradshaw 0 0 0-0 0, Purchase 0 0 0-0 0, Morse 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-11, 3FG-7, FT-7-13, PF-24.

Fouled Out – Vaughn, Taylor - Cairo.
Technical Fouls – Morse, Taylor - Cairo.