MARION -- McKenzie Orange was in the right place at the right time to make Senior Night a memorable one for the Marion High School girls basketball team Thursday night.
Orange's shot at the buzzer lifted the Lady Wildcats to a 45-44 victory over Carbondale in the final game of the regular season and guaranteed Marion of finishing with a winning record.
Marion had possession, trailing by one with 25 seconds left, and worked the ball around until Lauryn Kadela ended up on the baseline trapped under the basket. Kadela flipped the ball with one hand toward the hoop. Orange grabbed it with three defenders around her and put in the winning shot as the clock expired.
"Lauryn started driving left on the baseline there and it got tipped a couple times and she stayed with it and kept scrapping," said Marion coach Mike Manfredo. "The ball just popped up into Orange's hands and she was able to put it in. But I told Kadela she was just as important because if she had given up the first time we don't have a shot on the third one."
Marion is now 15-12 with postseason play beginning Monday night and ends the South Seven Conference schedule at 3-7. Carbondale was 9-0 in the league entering Thursday's game.
Carbondale had a 40-35 lead in the fourth quarter before Orange's first basket of the night and a bucket from one of Marion's two seniors, Jasa Bell, to make it a one-point game with 3:02 remaining.
"We were able to get back in it and finish it," Manfredo said. "That was an extremely good ball team we just beat there."
Carbondale's Maddie Doan then hit a 3-pointer -- after the ball bounced on the rim five times -- and Marion's other active senior, Abby Bayer, went to the line and hit the second of two free throws with 1:34 remaining to make it 43-40.
Marion had just three team fouls and worked that number to seven at the one-minute mark and sent Akira Custer to the line. The sophomore made the first bonus shot and missed her second to put the Terriers ahead 44-40.
Bayer nailed a clutch-as-they-come 3-pointer from in front of Marion's bench with 44 seconds left to cut the deficit to one.
"That was huge," Manfredo said. "That's what you have to have out of your seniors and she produced on it."
Custer was fouled again and she missed the bonus chance with 35.2 on the clock. Marion was then initially whistled for an over-and-back turnover but the officials met and gave the ball back to the Lady Wildcats with 25 seconds left.
The final possession started in Jordan Turner's hands, but finished with Orange making the winning shot. It was the 11th lead change on a night when Carbondale led at all three quarter breaks.
"We were out of timeouts so the girls did a really great job of going on there own there," Manfredo said. "It worked out fine."
Bayer finished with 17 points in her final game at Cuss Wilson Gymnasium.
"At the captain's meeting before the game, (Carbondale) coach (Marialice) Jenkins said, 'I'm glad they're done with you,'" Manfredo said. "She's probably going to end up as the fourth or fifth leading scorer in MHS history. She's had a great career and we're going to keep riding her here as long as we can."
Bell and Kadela both had eight points and Turner had six. Orange finished with four and Daishen Wolaver had two.
Marion's third senior, Cassandra Woods, was honored before the game but unable to play due to her ankle being injured and in a large boot.
"Our seniors really gave us a great effort tonight," Manfredo said. "I hated that Woods was out with a bad ankle but she was still with us too. So it was a nice ending for our seniors to go out on."
Doan scored 13 points and Amiya Moore had 12 for the Terriers, who won the first meeting between the teams by a 45-26 rout.
Marion opens postseason play Monday night in the Carterville 3A Regional against Massac County at 6 p.m., where the winner advances to Tuesday's semifinals and a matchup with Carterville.