It’s similar preparation in a different setting for the Marquette Catholic boys’ basketball team. The classes have changed.
The Explorers have returned to Class 2A postseason play after spending the past three seasons participating in Class 3A.
And they are happy about it. Naturally.
“There’s a lot more talent in Class 3A and you need a couple of more players to compete there,” Explorers’ coach Steve Medford said. “I think we have enough players that can do some damage in Class 2A.”
They will find out next week. Marquette, which is scheduled to complete its regular-season schedule Friday at home against 2A power Breese Central, is cast in the Dupo Regional.
The Explorers secured the No. 2 seed in their sub-sectional, meaning they could be on a collision course to play No. 3-seeded Roxana in the regional finals. Marquette improved to 18-7 Feb. 12 with a 49-43 win over the visiting Shells. It was their third win in succession and fourth victory in their last five games.
“There was a lot of energy in the game,” said Explorers’ guard Shandon Boone, pointing to the neighborhood rivalry. The 5-foot-8 senior provided a big chunk of it by scoring a game-high 26 points.
He added, “We didn’t want to show everything, so we played them (Shells) straight up.”
Before the Explorers and Shells could match up again, they both will have to get past opening-game foes. Marquette faces the East Alton-Wood River/Dupo winner at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23. Roxana meets Red Bud at 7 p.m. Feb. 24.
The winners advance to the regional championship contest, set for 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Dupo. The survivor earns a spot in the Pinckneyville Sectional, which could include Nashville, Breese Central and the host Panthers, if the regionals play out as seeded. The super-sectional is at the SIU Arena in Carbondale.
For Marquette, it seems more of a fit, even if the Explorers held their own in Class 3A competition since 2012-13.
Three years ago, they lost to East St. Louis — yes the Flyers — by a 67-40 score in the Class 3A regional finals at Civic Memorial High in Bethalto. The Flyers fell to Cahokia, 76-74, in the Mascoutah Sectional finals.
In 2013-14, the Deion Lavender-led Explorers then won a 3A regional title by beating Jersey, 61-57, at Triad. Marquette lost to Marion, 58-39, in the Highland Sectional.
Last season, the 14-12 Explorers fell to host Jersey, 39-26, in the regional semifinals at Havens Gym. Civic Memorial went on to win the regional championship.
“We had a nice little run in Class 3A and did some pretty good things,” Medford said.
The last time they competed in Class 2A, in 2011-12, the Explorers defeated the Shells for the EA-WR Regional title and then lost to Breese Central in the Vandalia Sectional. Marquette also snared a 2A regional championship in 2010-11, so the Explorers have snagged 3 titles in 5 years.
“We’ve played a pretty good schedule this season and I think that will help us,” Medford said. Marquette has faced Class 3A schools Jersey, Triad, CM, Waterloo, Highland, Quincy Notre Dame and Cahokia, plus 4A Collinsville. The Explorers also went 5-0 in the Prairie State Conference to earn the championship.
Medford added, “The teams in 3A generally have more depth. They may have three or four good players instead of two good ones.”
Boone serves as the Explorers’ top gun. He’s averaging 20 points per game and has seen all kinds of defenses in attempts to thwart him.
“He’s the guy we want to have the ball when the game is on the line,” Medford said. “He can shoot it from the outside or take it to the basket.”
Ben Sebacher, a 6-5 senior center, is averaging 9.4 points, while Reagan Snider, a 6-0 sophomore guard, is averaging 7.3 ppg. But it’s defense, rather than offense, that spurs the Explorers.
“We’ve been playing good defense, but we still haven’t peaked offensively,” said Medford, owner of a 121-46 record at Marquette. He previously served as an Alton High assistant and played prep ball at Jersey.
He pointed out, “Our kids expect to win and we have gotten a lot out of this team. The way we have gone about defending other teams is a reason that we have had a lot of success.”
Still, he’s wary about the postseason, which always produces its share of surprises.
“It ought to be a good regional because anybody can beat anybody on any given night,” he said. “We’re not overly talented, but I’m pretty excited about this team.
“I sure would like an opportunity with this group to see how we could do in the sectional.”
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