By PAUL HINES
Woodlawn has been a fixture in the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament title game the past several seasons.
This year will be no different.
The Cardinals topped Sparta 55-45 Saturday night to qualify for today’s championship. Woodlawn faces Goreville for the third straight year. The Cardinals have won the past two matchups.
“We are a little different team than we were last year, and that’s always kind of part of it,” Woodlawn coach Shane Witzel said. “We fully expect it to be a good basketball game.”
Kris Harlow led the Cardinals with 20 points, and Gabe Owens chipped in 13.
Woodlawn used a huge run to end the opening half and consistently hit free throws down the stretch to close out the victory.
Down 22-20, Woodlawn ended the first half with a 12-0 run. Jake Robinson jumpstarted the offense with five straight points. Harlow followed with a 3-pointer. Chase Phelps hit a shot, and Gabe Owens ended the half with a pair of free throws that put Woodlawn up 32-22.
“It was big for us whenever we were having a hard time getting any kind of good look that we got a good surge in there,” Witzel said.
Sparta chipped away at the Woodlawn lead throughout the third quarter. The Bulldogs closed the gap to 38-34 at the opening of the final quarter after a bucket from Phil Lockhart. Sparta never got closer as Woodlawn hit 10 of 11 free throws in the final quarter. For the game, the Cardinals hit 16 of 18 attempts.
Sparta’s 6-6 Aaron Rushing led all scorers with 21 points on eight of 15 shooting from the floor.
“He is a very good post player, and to their credit they’re patient enough to look for him,” Witzel said. “We’re trying to hound their guards so they can’t just enter that pass into the post.”
Today’s championship is at 3:30 p.m.