The Tigers' Jack Marinko tossed in 31 points on Wednesday night in regional action. (Photos by Brent Feeney)

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Caleb Strohmeier has been a big contributor to the Tigers' success over the past two seasons. He added 10 points on Wednesday and helped set up Edwardsville for a battle for the regional title Friday night. (Photo by Brent Feeney)O'FALLON – O'Fallon's Panthers came out ready to go for their IHSA Class 4A O'Fallon Regional semifinal game against Edwardsville Wednesday night.

“I thought O'Fallon played excellent; they really were clearly prepared to play,” said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo of the Panthers.

Edwardsville, however, got a 31-point effort from Jack Marinko and found ways to hold off the Panthers down the stretch as EHS moved into Friday night's regional final against Belleville West with a 50-47 win over OTHS at the Panther Dome.

The Tiger-Maroon final is set for 7 p.m. Friday, with the winner moving into next week's Pekin Sectional; Friday's winner meets the Quincy Regional champion – either Alton or the host Blue Devils, who meet for that regional title at 7 p.m. Friday – at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a semifinal game at Alton's Redbird Nest, with Tuesday's winner heading to Pekin for the sectional crown at 7 p.m. March 9. The Tigers moved to 18-8 on the year with the win, while the Panthers were eliminated at 11-18.

“I thought their schemes and the things they did against us were excellent,” Waldo said. “They were really hard to play against tonight; they're definitely a well-coached, well-prepared team, and for us to win this game as well as they played, I think it says a lot for our kids.”

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Marinko came up with four big free throws down the stretch that made the difference; the Panthers had rallied to a point in the closing moments of the game and seemed ready to take the lead before Marinko's clutch points, and he did it despite taking an accidental shot to the face that stunned him at one point in the game.

“We did a lot of things well tonight,” Waldo said, “but Jack took a pretty good shot (under his left eye) real early, and he got up and hooped – and never flinched. A lot of people, if they had took the shot he took, would still be sitting on the bench over there and Jack played the whole game after that; you've got to give Jack a lot of credit.

“I thought defensively, we did a lot of things good; I thought Jaylen (Tuggle) and Malik (Robinson) did some really good things defensively, and R.J. (Wilson), (Caleb) Strohmeier and Jack played excellent on defense too. I think our defense was a key to helping us win the game because it was hard to score on them. What they did defensively was hard on us.”

Panther coach Brian Muniz was happy with how his team stuck to its' game plan.

“Besides a couple of minutes in the second quarter, we stayed to our game plan, we were patient and took good shots,” Muniz said. “Our game plan was kind of to maximize our early guys and see if we could have our other guys score a little bit, take the onus off of Jalen (Hodge) because they do such a good job of taking him away; he didn't have as many shots as normal, but our guys did such a great job of staying with it.

“We wanted a chance to win the game at the end – we had a chance, we just missed our opportunity there.”

The game was a tight one all the way through; the teams were tied at 10-10 at quarter time before the Tigers managed to open up a small lead in the second; the Panthers kept pace with the Tigers and the EHS lead never got much past six points, with Edwardsville holding a 27-21 halftime lead. It stayed close throughout the third period, with EHS up 37-35 at three-quarter time. The Tigers never lost the lead, but the Panthers managed to pull to within a point in the final quarter before Marinko's four big free throws down the stretch put the game away.

Strohmeier added 10 points for the Tigers on the night to go with Marinko's 31; Kyle Dismukes led OTHS with 12 points for the game, with Teron Bowman adding 11 and Hodge being held to 10.

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