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Best sports moments of 2017

updated: 1/4/2018 11:37 PM

Like a long shot at the buzzer, the Marion Wildcats boys basketball team provided the Marion Republican's top sports story of 2017 with one day to spare.

1. Wildcats win CHT

Marion went into the 54th annual Carbondale Holiday Tournament not having ever won the Championship Plus, nor having won the AA bracket in 30 years or even made it that far since the 1999 tournament.

But the Wildcats beat four tough teams -- all from either Missouri or Tennessee -- in three days to claim all the hardware. Jaden Lacy was named the event's MVP and was joined by teammate Jackson Connor on the all-tournament team.

Marion's wins came against McCluer, Memphis U-High, Memphis Central and Cardinal Ritter in that order, with three of the wins at SIU Arena and one at Carbondale High School.

The Wildcats received major contributions from seniors Terrell Henderson, Justin Saddoris, David Fletcher, Cole Schafer, Justin Johnson and Lacy in the tournament.

2. MJHS softball wins Class L title

The Marion Junior High School softball team rallied from a six-run deficit in the sixth inning to stun Murphysboro, 10-8, and claim the SIJHSAA Class L state tournament championship at Centralia's Rotary Park.

Murphysboro scored three runs in the top of the first inning and was up 8-2 going into the bottom of the sixth, with Marion's runs to that point coming on a two-run homer by Presley Barnett in the fourth inning.

That homer came after Jerzy Bittle was hit by a pitch. The bottom of the sixth started with Bittle being plunked again and Barnett going deep for a second time to make it 8-4 in a blink. Makenzie Nicholson then drew a walk and Alexus Hutchcraft went in to run. Ava Wong was retired on a comebacker, but then Karris Rhine and Addi Wall drew walks that were followed by run scoring hits by Bailey Long and Amelia Browning.

Bittle came back to the plate and put Marion ahead with a bases-clearing triple then provided some insurance when Nicholson singled to bring her home.

Camryn Harre put down Murphysboro in order in seventh to give Marion its third Class L championship in the past six years. Harre had seven strikeouts in the win.

The Lady Wildcats finished with a 26-1 record with the lone loss coming to Herrin.

3. Goreville does its thing again

Normally this would be bigger news but the Goreville sports programs have spoiled us.

Goreville's baseball team came up just short of repeating as Class 1A champions when it lost a tough game to eventual champ Peoria Heights in the semifinals before whipping Somonauk 10-3 in the third-place game at Peoria's Dover Park.

Meanwhile across the river at East Peoria's EastSide Centre, Goreville's softball team knocked off two-time defending champion Hardin Calhoun, 2-0 in nine innings, to win the 1A state championship for the second time in six years.

Calhoun -- the same school that beat Goreville's girls basketball team at the Salem Super-Sectional -- couldn't score against the Lady Blackcats' sophomore hurler Lexi King, who pitched all nine innings.

Goreville's runs came in the ninth inning when King doubled and Summar Albright singled, then Macy Goins doubled for a 2-0 lead. And they came against Grace Baalman, a standout pitcher with several IHSA strikeout records.

Camren Anderson, who homered in Goreville's 11-0 semifinal win over Heyworth, and Albright were the only seniors on the team. Cheyenne Walker was the winning pitcher for Goreville in the semifinal game.

The Lady Blackcats finished with a 26-8 record.

The Goreville baseball team had a 3-0 lead over Peoria Heights but the Patriots scored four in the fifth to advance to the title game. The Blackcats' season ended at 27-8 after winning the third-place game.

4. MJHS girls track team wins state title

The Marion Junior High School girls track and field team used its depth to bring home the SIJHSAA Class L State Track and Field Meet championship trophy from Carterville.

The Lady Wildcats compiled 70 points at Lions Field to finish ahead of runner up O'Fallon-Carriel (50), while Collinsville (39), Triad (38) and Whiteside (36) took the next spots at a meet where 39 teams scored at least one point.

The pole vault gave the Lady Cats a strong start as Charlotte Arnold won the event at 8-6 and Karris Rhine tied for second at 8-0 to give Marion 17 team points in that event alone.

But that was the only event Marion won on the girls side.

The 400 relay placed third (52.81) and the 800 relay placed fifth (1:54.46). The 1,600 relay was sixth (4:36.55) for three points.

Those relays included Heaven Lawrence, Heaven Edwards, Janae Maxwell, Makiah Baker, Stephanie Rodriguez, Raegan Kind, Isis Williams-Wolaver and Margaux Bruce.

Bruce, a seventh-grader, was qualified for three individual events and racked up 17 points by herself. Bruce placed third in the 800-meter run (2:33.82), fourth in the 400 (1:02.15) and was third in the long jump (15-3.5).

Lawrence was second in the 100 hurdles with a personal-best time of 16.01 seconds.

Maxwell was fourth in the 7th grade 100 (13.27) and Jade Nappier was fourth in both the discus (80-4) and shot put (30-3) to score 10 points.

Marion's boys, meanwhile, finished in fifth and had their streak of being four-time defending Class L champions snapped.

5. Bruce wins medal at state cross country meet

The phrase about something being a marathon and not a sprint gets used a lot in various walks of life, but the meaning was quite literally what helped Marion sophomore John Bruce earn a medal in the Class 2A boys race at the IHSA's State Cross Country Championships.

Bruce saw the lead pack get ahead of him faster than he expected in the race at Detweiller Park, but rather than burn out his energy catching up to them right away he bided his time and caught up gradually before crossing in 14th place with a time of 15:08.

A time 12 seconds slower would've pushed Bruce out of the top 25 but he was well positioned to become Marion's first all-stater in cross country in 17 years.

Marion, running as a team for the second straight year, placed 14th in the 2A team standings. Marion, which won the South Seven Conference title, overcame missing two runners to place fifth at the Highland Regional and was fourth at the Decatur Sectional to qualify for state as a team.

6. Marion volleyball wins 25 straight matches

When the Marion High School volleyball team swept its way through the Marion Invitational on Oct. 14, it gave the Lady Wildcats a remarkable 25-match win streak.

Marion hadn't lost since the championship match of the Southern Illinois Preview Tournament on Sept. 2, a three-game loss to Carbondale that was later avenged.

Marion's other losses were to Massac County in the season opener -- also avenged at the Lady Patriots' own tournament -- and to Belleville Althoff, which it didn't face again.

Unfortunately, Marion lost its next match, which happened to be Senior Night and against Carbondale again. But the Lady Wildcats finished with 31 wins before losing to Massac County in the championship of the Mt. Vernon Regional.

7. MJHS baseball so close to perfect

The Marion Junior High School baseball team went through the regular season undefeated and then rebounded from its only loss of the season to beat Millstadt, 11-6, in the third-place game of the SIJHSAA Class L state tournament at Centralia's Rotary Park.

Marion finished the season at 24-1 with the lone loss coming against Highland in the state semifinals. Highland went on to beat O'Fallon-Carriel, 6-1, in the championship game.

8. Marion football extends playoff streak

The Marion High School football team found itself trailing Centralia by four points after leading by 15 in the homecoming game at Wildcat Stadium, but the clock still had 2:02 remaining.

The Wildcats used it to regain the lead and beat the Orphans, 49-46, and grab a share of the South Seven Conference's top spot and eventually a share of the league championship.

Led by seniors Jaden Lacy, David Fletcher and Caden Hilliard, the Wildcats went on to finish 6-3 in the regular season with losses to Dunlap, Highland and Belleville Althoff.

The six wins allowed the Wildcats to extend the region's longest active playoff streak to an incredible 13 straight years.

Dunlap went on to place second in 5A and Highland lost in the 4A semifinals to eventual state champion Rochester, which eliminated Althoff in the second round.

Marion's season ended in the first round of the 5A playoffs at Rich Central.

9. Herrin football advances to 4A quarterfinals

Speaking of Rochester, the Rockets also claimed Herrin as a victim in the 4A quarterfinals, ending a stellar season for the Tigers.

Herrin senior Jase Gosha rushed for 203 yards in the loss and became the school's all-time single-season scoring and rushing leader. His 36 touchdowns broke the previous mark of 30 set by Chase Merrill in 2014. His unofficial total of 1,874 yards breaks the rushing record of 1,779 yards set by his brother, Gavyn, in 2015.

Junior defensive back Tate Johnson also broke a 39-year-old interception record with eight and senior offensive lineman Gage Wells set a school record for most varsity games started with 47.

Herrin went 10-2 with the other loss coming against Du Quoin. The Tigers defeated Paris and Tolono Unity in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

10. Marion, Herrin softball have strong seasons

The softball teams from Marion and Herrin both advanced to the Columbia 3A Sectional and Herrin went even further to the Mattoon Super-Sectional before falling to ... wait for it ... Rochester.

Marion went 23-5 and won the South Seven Conference title for the third year in a row in addition to winning its own regional.

The Lady Wildcats' season ended in the semifinals of the sectional with an 11-4 loss to host Columbia, which then lost to Herrin in the championship. Herrin finished with a 33-5 record.

When they met in the regular season, Marion defeated Herrin, 6-3, at Bruce Jilek Field.