BREESE — Stan Eagleson allowed his Central High basketball players ample time to enjoy the Class 2A state championship they claimed last season.
About three months to be exact.
"We had a county parade (to honor the team) in July and after that I said, "OK, it's time to move on," the veteran coach recalled. "Different season, different team."
The Cougars may not be the same squad that won 34 of 35 games last season. But they still remain the top dogs in Clinton County.
Third-seeded Central used its lock-down defense to smother rival Mater Dei 47-35 on Wednesday afternoon in the opening round of Pool B play in the 52nd annual Mater Dei Christmas Tournament at Mater Dei High.
The Cougars (8-3) have owned their neighbors of late. They beat Mater Dei 51-36 in last season's tournament title tilt. They also won three other contests between the teams in 2001-2012.
This year's group continues to roll despite the graduation loss of all-stater Brandon Book and standout guard Nick Grapperhaus.
Senior Kyler Scheer leads the way at 13 points per game. Junior guard Jacob Timmermann, a key cog last season, anchors another strong defensive unit.
Timmermann, like his teammates, enjoyed the perks that go with winning a state championship. But those memories are on hold for the time being as the Cougars try to defend their hard-earned title.
"Coach told us to forget everything, forget about last year," Timmermann said. "It won't help us."
Timmermann and Scheer triggered a balanced attack that wore down the seventh-seeded Knights (5-6) on Wednesday. Seniors Luis Perez and Luke Jackson led the way with eight points each. Scheer and senior Austin Rickhoff added seven points each. Greg Meyer and Timmermann had six points apiece.
The Central bench came through with several key baskets including 3-pointers by Jackson, Meyer and Tanner Imming.
"I've seen worse games in the first game after Christmas," Eagleson said. "We did what we had to. This was a good win for us."
The Cougars fashioned an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter to take control 31-17. Scheer began the roll with a short jumper off a pass from Timmermann. Meyer and Imming followed with back-to-back 3-pointers in a 96-second span to push the lead to 14.
Mater Dei never got closer than to within 10 points the rest of the way. Senior guard Adam Etter led the Knights with a game-high 13 points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter when the game was all but decided. Timmermann hounded Etter all game long, rendering him ineffective through the first three periods.
"I try to focus on my defense which will lead to my offense," Timmermann said. "Overall, I felt pretty good out there."
Mater Dei committed five turnovers in the first quarter and never got untracked.
"We haven't been able to get into the flow offensively against Central for four or five years," Mater Dei coach Brian Perkes said. "Their defense is just better than our offense."
Central rolled out to an early 13-4 lead with five different players scoring in the first 6:43. Mater Dei battled back to within 19-15 on a jumper by Etter with two seconds left in the half.
But the Knights made just one field goal in the first 7:19 of the third quarter as the Cougars took control.
The contest was played in front of a standing-room only crowd on a weekday afternoon.
The game was halted for 27 minutes early in the second quarter due to a kneecap injury to Mater Dei sophomore guard Zach Haake.