HIGHLAND — For the Central Cougars it begins -- and ends -- on the defensive end of the floor.
Just ask the Mater Dei Knights.
Senior April Gebke helped set the tone with 13 first-half points and the Cougars' defense was in total-lockdown mode throughout as Central hammered Mater Dei 43-27 Thursday in the semifinals of the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
A 5-foot-5 guard, Gebke scored on a pair of short-range jumpers in the opening three minutes, while junior Maddie Timmermann and freshman Kendra Wilken helped the Cougars dominate inside as they moved into their third tournament title game of the season.
The win also avenged a 54-43 Mater Dei win last month.
"I was upset with the way we played the first time and we wanted to prove that we were a better team now than we were then,'' Gebke said. "We came out and played well early and we were able to sustain that all night. We played very well.''
The win moves Central (22-2) into the title game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Belleville West.
The Maroons (15-5) upset top-seed Nashville 32-26 in the other semifinal Wednesday.
Mater Dei (19-2), ranked seventh in the Class 3A state poll, will take on Nashville in the third-place game on Saturday at 1 p.m.
While Gebke keyed the Cougars on offense, Wilken did the same on defense and combined with the 5-10 Timmermann to bottle up the Knights on the blocks.
"I thought we played very well. Obviously we wanted to make some adjustments from the first time we played and we did that,'' Central coach Nathan Rueter said. "We did an outstanding job on the defensive end of the floor and we did a much better job of rebounding. The first time they hurt us on the offensive boards and we couldn't have that happen again."
Gebke hit three free throws at the end of the first quarter as Central took a 12-7 lead. She then added three baskets in the second period and Timmermann nailed a 3-pointer as the Cougars took a 25-15 lead into halftime.
Central continued its onslaught in the opening stages of the second half. Wilken scored inside and Tori Kohrmann tallied on a play as Central's lead ballooned to 18 points.
Mater Dei, which got 11 points from Emily Koelling, would get no closer than 11 the rest of the night.
"Obviously they (Central) played very well,'' Mater Dei coach Dave Kohnen said. "I'm not going to say too much. It might get me into trouble.''
Gebke paced Central with 15 points while Timmermann added 12.
Carlyle 55, Hillsboro 50 (OT)
Senior Shaelyn Tate and junior Brianna Smith hit 3-point shots 45 seconds apart early in overtime as the Indians nipped the Hilltoppers to move into the fifth-place game.
Carlyle (18-4) trailed 46-43 with less than a minute gone in overtime, when Tate tied the game at 46 with a 3 from the right side.
Smith, who scored all nine of her points on 3s, then gave her team the lead for good on Carlyle's next possession.
"She (Smith) is a great shooter and for her to step up like that and hit a big shot was good to see," said Carlyle coach Randy Voss. "If she can do that, it just opens up other players.
"What I liked was that was when we fell behind in the fourth quarter we continued to battle and didn't quit.''
Senior all-stater Paige Rakers led Carlyle with 20 points, while Tate added 16. Hillsboro was led by Shelby Gray's 19 points.
Okawville 47, Teutopolis 44
Senior Megan Wienstroer scored 18 points and the Rockets made the plays down the stretch as they nipped the Wooden Shoes in a fifth-place semifinal.
Wienstroer, a Quincy University recruit, nailed four 3s while Okawville's defense held tight late in the game to hold off a late Teutopolis rally.
"I told the girls that we had to get back to playing the type of defense we did at the Mascoutah Tournament and we did that tonight,'' Okawville coach Michelle Burianek said. "It was very, very physical and I thought my girls held their own well. We didn't back down.''
Okawville (17-5) will take on Carlyle in the fifth-place game at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.