BREESE — The Central Cougars enjoy being part of the feature entertainment on championship night at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
Despite playing without injured starter Kyler Scheer, the defending tourney champion Cougars used balanced scoring and a tight defense to reach the title game for the fourth straight year with a 62-50 victory Friday over (Springfield) Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Both teams finished 3-1 in pool play, but third-seeded Central (10-4) advanced with the head-to-head victory over the second-seeded Cyclones (8-3).
Central will take on top-seeded (Memphis) Briarcrest in the championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday.
"We've got the same goal every year --we want to get to that championship and play at 8 o'clock on Saturday night," said Central senior Austin Rickhoff, who made sure it happened with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The defending Class 2A state champion Cougars drained four quick 3-pointers in the opening quarter and six in the first half, rolling up a 31-11 halftime advantage.
They hit eight of their 16 3-point tries on the night while the Cyclones were 8-for-30 from beyond the arc.
"I think the first half was about as well as we've played all year," Central coach Stan Eagleson said. "They came out and really turned up the pressure in the second half (and) we didn't handle it very well. It was a great, great win for our kids.
"When the ball goes in the basket, it always makes things look better. Shooting's still a big part of the game."
The Cyclones had beaten their first three opponents in the tourney, but had no answer for the hot-shooting Cougars. Central was 13-for-18 (72 percent) on two-point field goals and hit 50 percent (8-for-16) of its 3s.
Junior guard Jacob Timmermann added 13 points for Central and Luke Jackson, starting for Scheer, had another big game with 12 points and nine rebounds. Luis Perez had three 3-pointers among his 11 points.
Central seemed to thrive on a quick start that included sinking five of its first six 3-point tries.
"We know we're a good 3-point shooting team and once we get hot like that, we're really tough to beat," Rickhoff said. "It helped us down the stretch because we built a big enough lead to continue it.
"To beat a good team like Sacred Heart, you really need a total team effort."
SH-Griffin outscored Central 21-9 during a torrid third quarter that cut the deficit to 40-33, but the Cougars hit enough free throws down the stretch to eliminate any chance of a comeback.
"We expected that. They're a great team, we knew they were going to come out on fire," Rickhoff said. "We just told ourselves not to be satisfied with our first-half effort."
SH-G's Nate Lowis scored 11 of his team-leading 13 points in the second half while Travis Vogel scored all 10 of his during the final two quarters.
Timmermann jump-started a strong first half for the Cougars by draining a 3-pointer. It was one of six 3-pointers for Central in the first half as the Cougars jumped all over the Cyclones.
Central led 31-11 at halftime as the Cyclones managed to hit just four of their first 18 shots. Rickhoff and Jackson combined for 17 of Central's 31 first-half points.
Scheer suffered a concussion against Nashville earlier in the tournament and Jackson, a 6-foot senior forward, has provided a big lift in his absence.
"It's really been good for our depth to play without Kyler," Eagleson said. "Luke Jackson's showed the coaching staff a lot. We talked all year about how we need to get him more minutes and it's hard to take Kyler out if the other team's got a 6-5 or 6-6 kid.
"Luke's a smart kid, too, he's got a wide body and boxes out well. He got some big rebounds tonight."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.