CARBONDALE -- After what transpired at SIU Arena on Friday, there is officially no limit to what the Marion High School boys basketball team could potentially accomplish this season.
The Wildcats dominated a talented Memphis Central team, 68-52, for the AA championship then came back and defeated Cardinal Ritter, 54-48, in the Reid Martin Championship Plus game of the 54th annual Carbondale Holiday Tournament.
Marion hadn't advanced to the AA title game since 1999 and hadn't won that game since 1987. The Wildcats had never won the Championship Plus in the tournament's elustrious history despite being one of just six schools to play over 100 games in the event.
"I told these seniors, 'Hey, you be the team that people talk about,'" said Marion first-year coach Gus Gillespie. "This is a good start for us."
The Wildcats, who are now 11-2 this season after going 4-0 in the tournament, had four players reach double figures against Cardinal Ritter.
All four of those players were seniors.
Jaden Lacy, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds. Terrell Henderson had 10 points and 11 rebounds, with another handful of blocked shots, while Justin Saddoris had 12 points and Cole Schafer put in 10 off the bench.
Marion's other seniors, David Fletcher and Justin Johnson, also made key contributions to beat the Lions, who had 12 wins already.
"These seniors played with a lot of confidence and a lot of pride," Gillespie said. "They showed some character. They're a tight bunch. I felt like every game we played at a little higher level when we needed to."
Cardinal Ritter actually jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the Wildcats, but after a timeout, Marion reeled off 10 straight points to pull in front. Henderson and Lacy started the scoring, Schafer came in and canned a 3-pointer and Johnson converted a three-point play to make it 10-7.
A tip-in by Schafer at the buzzer gave Marion a 13-11 lead at the first quarter break, then the Wildcats went on another 10-0 run in the second quarter capped by a Saddoris layup that made it 23-13.
Marion's lead was 25-18 at the half, then the lead grew to as many as 16 points in the third quarter at 40-24 on a pair of free throws by Lacy.
But the Lions went on a run of their own and pulled within seven early in the fourth. Marion seemed comfortable with a 51-41 lead after a Lacy putback with 2:09 left, but it wasn't over yet.
Schafer missed two 1-and-1 free throws and the Lions scored after both, then Saddoris missed two foul shots with 37 seconds left and Cardinal Ritter got within 51-48 with 20.1 still on the clock.
Saddoris was sent back to the line two more times and made 3 of 4 to secure the win.
"You have to knock some of those shots down," Gillespie said, "but we did take care of the ball and I thought we played intelligent basketball at the end."
Another sign of Marion's balance is that sophomore Jackson Connor, who had just five points against Cardinal Ritter, was named to the all-tournament team along with Lacy.
Connor hit double figures in Marion's first two wins of the tournament and then had 19 points in Friday's win over Memphis Central in the AA title game.
That matchup featured eight lead changes and five ties early -- after the Wildcats overcame a rash of turnovers with strong defense -- and a pair of dunks by Lacy, who matched Connor with 19 points.
Marion took the lead for good at 20-19 on a putback by Schafer early in the second quarter. The Wildcats scored the final four points of the first half and the first eight of the third quarter to push out to a 13-point lead.
The margin grew to as many as 21 points in the final period -- Saddoris hit a pair of free throws to make it 63-42 with 4:24 left. Saddoris finished with 10 points, Henderson put in nine and Schafer had eight against the Warriors.
"It's tough to win these things," Gillespie said. "You have to win two tough games in a row. We had some kids that showed some character. I'm proud of them and they deserve it.
"It was a total team effort."
When all was said and done, the Wildcats beat two Missouri schools and two schools from Memphis, Tennessee during the three-day affair. They met every challenge threw at them along the way and looked impressive while doing so.
"Every game was a little different," Gillespie said. "We made some good adjustments. I thought we took very good shots. We did some good stuff."
Marion's next game is this coming Friday at home against Carbondale.
NOTES: Marion played in the Championship Plus three years in a row from 1985-1987 but lost each time after winning the AA title games. In those three years, MVPs were given in both classes. In 1985, the award went to Marion's Steve Lacy, who is Jaden Lacy's uncle. In both 1986 and 1987, the award went to Marion's Scott Shreffler, who happened to be the speaker at this year's preseason fund-raiser dinner. ... Going back a little further, there was just one MVP award given in 1982 when it was won by Zeigler-Royalton's Sean Connor, who is Jackson Connor's father. Two years later, Sean set the all-time record for points in a CHT game with 52 while making an also-record 23 field goals. ... Memphis Central, which Marion beat in the AA title game, went on to win third place with a win over Saxony Lutheran. Carbondale took fifth by beating Meridian, which knocked off Murphysboro in Friday's first game. To get there Carbondale had to beat Memphis U-High, which lost to Marion in the second round. ... Marion's next tournament will be the West Frankfort Mid-Winter Classic, where the field will also include the winner of Goreville's tournament (Anna-Jonesboro) and the Eldorado Holiday Tournament (Eldorado). It begins on Jan. 13 and concludes Jan. 20.