When the Marion County Warriors entered the Christmas break with one win in a dozen games, the last thing on coach Chuck Keef's mind was winning the District 6-A basketball tournament.
And when leading scorer Preston Pickett was lost for the season nine games ago, Keef probably didn't envision the Warriors hosting any region games.
So coming back from 11 points down in the final two minutes to force overtime and eventually stunning Van Buren County 63-62 in Tuesday's night district final at Sale Creek was simply icing on the cake.
Marion County's five seniors became the first group to win two district titles in school history and will host Silverdale Baptist Academy on Saturday in the region tournament. Van Buren will host Arts & Sciences.
Whitwell held off host Sale Creek 64-51 in the consolation game to earn a trip to Grace Academy, while Sale Creek will travel to 5-A champ Boyd-Buchanan.
"We've had to find our identity a couple of times this year, but we are definitely peaking at the right time," Keef said. "This senior group really wanted that history. I certainly didn't think we would be standing here back in December, but that's a tribute to these kids. They played hard all year."
The Warriors played especially hard after Van Buren came out on fire in the third period to extend a 23-19 lead to 35-23 within the first four minutes. Van Buren's Michael Shockley buried five of his 3-pointers in the period. And it was Shockley who gave the Eagles a 53-42 lead with an old-fashioned three-point play with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Marion refused to wilt, though, and extended full-court pressure that eventually wore down Van Buren. The Eagles didn't help their cause by missing nine of 10 free throws down the stretch.
Hamilton Shoemaker tied the score with 15 ticks left in regulation, but a quick foul put Van Buren back up with two Ryan Walling free throws. Shoemaker found Avery Brown alone under the basket for a layup to send the game to overtime.
The Warriors led 63-60 on Shoemaker's free throw with 20 seconds left, but it looked as if it was headed to a second OT when Drew Roberts threw up a double-pump shot at the buzzer that was good, but the officials ruled his foot was on the line, making it a 2-pointer, and the game was over.
John Vannatta led Marion with 20 points and Shoemaker had 17, while Shockley led all scorers with his 24.