NASHVILLE — The most important thing about Gibault High School basketball coach Dennis Rueter's 600th win Friday at the Nashville Invitational Tournament -- at least to the man himself -- was getting the Hawks to the championship game.
"The neat thing for us, I think, is our kids get to play in another big game," Rueter said following Gibault's 57-52 overtime victory over Mater Dei in the semifinals. "That's what high school basketball's about, playing in big games. That's what makes it special to me.
"I knew somewhere along the line we were going to get to 600, but this one gets you to the championship game."
Ironically, Nashville's Assembly Hall could have been the site of an extremely rare night with Central coach Stan Eagleson also going for his 600th victory.
That celebration will have to wait at least one more night after the defending Class 2A state champion Cougars dropped their semifinal 52-45 to Teutopolis in a battle of state-ranked teams.
Gibault (17-3), ranked fourth in the Class 1A state poll, will take on Teutopolis (16-4) in the title game at 8 p.m. Saturday. Making their NIT debut, the Wooden Shoes were fifth in the latest 2A state rankings.
The 56-year-old Rueter began coaching at Gibault in 1980. After the win --which saw Wes Degener score eight of his game-high 20 points in overtime -- Rueter paused to reflect on his coaching journey.
"That's a lot of bus trips isn't it?" Rueter said. "That's a lot of games. It doesn't mean any more than 599. It's nice I guess, people get excited about it because there's a bunch of zeroes behind it. But to me it's just the relationship you've got with so many kids.
"What's going to be neat is so many ex-players are going to come by and they're going to say something to you. That's what really makes it special."
Gibault had defeated Mater Dei 60-59 in a meeting on Jan. 4.
The Hawks led 29-20 early in the second quarter Friday, but Mater Dei (11-9) refused to go away. Both teams had chances to win in regulation, in a contest that featured an extremely tight finish.
After a foul shot by Mater Dei's Mitchell Langenhorst put the Knights on top 44-42 with 49.1 seconds remaining, Gibault's Brendan McFarland dropped in a hook shot to tie it 13 seconds later.
Degener was 11-of-12 at the foul line and sank all four of his attempts in overtime as the Hawks held on.
"He gets fouled a lot, he needs to do that," Rueter said. "He's just such a good athlete. We knew we had what we thought was a favorable matchup there and we wanted to get him in some situations. Obviously he took advantage of that."
Gibault got eight points apiece from Mitch Meyer, Matt Schreder and McFarland. Langenhorst came off the bench to lead Mater Dei with 13 points. Adam Etter had 11.
Rueter said the Nashville Invitational has always been a good measuring stick for the Hawks, who will be trying for their first tourney championship since 1993.
Gibault hasn't reached the title game since 2004, when it finished second.
"The first four years we were in it, we won three times -- and we haven't won since," Rueter said. "It's a tough tournament."
Teutopolis 52, Central 45
After an intense first half that saw them assert themselves all over the floor on the way to a 28-24 halftime lead, the Central Cougars ran into a brick wall in the third quarter.
The Wooden Shoes outscored the Cougars 17-4 in the quarter and held on the rest of the way.
"T-town came out and executed very well to start the third quarter, just punched us in the mouth and we took too long to recover," said Eagleson, whose 11th-ranked team had defeated Teutopolis 49-42 on Nov. 30.
Teutopolis got 17 points from 6-foot-6 senior Kyle Pruemer, 12 from Derek Smith and 11 from Devin Falbe.
"That third quarter was just atrocious," Eagleson said. "Turnovers, running into the corner (and) standing, (we) quit moving. ... We made bad decisions with the ball and that was the difference.
"Other than the third quarter, I thought we played all right."
Central's Luke Jackson came off the bench and nailed all six of his shots, including three 3-pointers, on the way to a 15-point night.
In a battle of tough defensive teams, physical play was the rule. Central guard Jacob Timmermann took a knee to the thigh late in the first half and seemed bothered by it the rest of the way.
Timmermann and Austin Rickhoff added 11 points each for the Cougars, but most of their damage occurred in the second half.
Central's loss sets up another battle with rival Mater Dei in the third-place game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Central defeated the Knights on Dec. 26 at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament,
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.