Sexton never trailed.
But it also didn’t lead by double digits until 2:34 remaining of a 65-52 victory over Flint Southwestern on Monday night.
The Big Reds (16-6) advance to play Jackson Lumen Christi (20-3), which routed Olivet 75-28 in the earlier semifinal, on its home floor at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in a Class B regional final.
“We don’t have the same caliber of guys as we had last year, but we’ve got the same fight,” Sexton coach Carlton Valentine said. “It’s a cliche, but you’ve got to survive and advance. That was a tough team. Those guys made shots. But we inflicted our own wounds with several turnovers.”
The Big Reds didn’t lead by more than six in the first quarter, eight in the second quarter, and seven in the third quarter.
Flint Southwestern trimmed the lead to 39-37 with 1:30 remaining in the third quarter when Trevor Manuel had a dunk and another basket to put Sexton ahead 43-37 going into the fourth quarter.
But the Knights (16-6) narrowed the lead back to two at 43-41 when Jalen Hayes had a big drive and layup and two free throws to increase the Big Reds’ lead to six.
“Jalen is really the only guy who has been through the battles and the wars over the years,” Valentine said. “Trevor played for us last year, but he wasn’t on the floor all the time.
“Jalen has started every game for me the last three years, so he’s the guy we have to lean on.”
Hayes finished with 19 points, Tyson Thomas 12, Malik Mack 11, and Jeremy Williamson and Manuel 10 each for Sexton.
“Malik Mack knocked down two big threes in the beginning of that game that kind of stretched the defense,” Valentine said. “He can shoot the ball, but Malik’s so coachable that he wants to run the offense, and get guys in position to be successful.”
Miles Bridges led Flint Southwestern with 14 points, including two 3-pointers that cut Sexton’s lead to six for the last time at 54-48 with 3:40 left.
Up next is a Lumen Christi team that shared the CAAC Gold title with and split with Waverly.
“They’re going to be tough,” Valentine said. “Their guard play is good. They’re a veteran team. They’re big and strong and physical. We’re going to have to make sure we take care of the basketball, and execute Sexton basketball.”