After taking one on the chin in the first half Wednesday, Jack Marinko and the Edwardsville Tigers delivered a knockout blow to the O'Fallon Panthers at the Class 4A O'Fallon Regional.
Marinko scored 31 points, including two free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining, as Edwardsville defeated O'Fallon 50-47 in a regional semifinal at the Panther Dome.
Fighting from behind all night, O'Fallon (11-18) rallied twice from eight-point deficits. O'Fallon senior Jalen Hodge scored on a layup with less than 10 seconds remaining to cut the Panthers' deficit to 48-47.
But Marinko calmly made both free throws to extend the lead to 50-47, and when a Panthers' desperation shot from halfcourt fell well short of the mark, Edwardsville had advanced. The win also extends coach Mike Waldo's career at Edwardsville by at least one more game after 30 years of leading the Tigers program.
"We knew coming in that O'Fallon would be ready to play us tough and they did," Marinko said. "We were able to make some plays and our defense did a great job all night. Now, we get another chance to play Belleville West."
Edwardsville (18-8) will take on West, ranked second in the Class 4A state poll, in the regional title game at 7 p.m. Friday.
"They are big, talented and well-coached," Waldo said of the Maroons. "We'll get to work and prepare for them (Thursday). Tonight, O'Fallon had a great game plan and executed that game plan very well against us."
Senior Caleb Strohmeier added 10 points for Edwardsville, while O'Fallon was led by Kyle Dismukes (12 points) and Teron Bowman (11).
The loss, although disappointing for the Panthers, came with a solid effort.
"We executed what we wanted to do very well," O'Fallon coach Brian Muniz said. "There were just a couple of possessions where we turned the ball over and we took a bad low-percentage shot, but the effort, like it has been all year, was outstanding tonight.
"(Edwardsville) did a great job on Jalen. But they usually do find a way to take away the opposition's top offensive player."
Leading just 37-35 after three quarters, Edwardsville scored the first six points of the final quarter for a 43-35 lead with just more than six minutes left.
But in the midst of a 9-of-20 performance from the free-throw line, Edwardsville missed four straight free throws and committed five turnovers, which allowed the Panthers to draw close once again.