DUPO — The explosive Central Cougars certainly are capable of a making a comeback, but this time the Nashville Hornettes wouldn't let it happen.
Shaye Harre had 19 points and Shawn Rennergarbe added 17 points as the Hornettes turned back the Cougars 45-33 Tuesday in a matchup of two of the state's top-ranked Class 2A teams in the semifinal round of the Dupo Girls Sectional.
The Hornettes built up 31-22 lead and then protected it down the stretch by making 17 of their 18 free-throw chances over the final 3:21.
"We didn't miss many in the fourth quarter,'' Nashville coach Wayne Harre said. "That makes it hard for a team to come back. I felt like it was the opposite of last year at Sesser. We couldn't get back because they were making free throws. That's the way these kind of games go.''
The Hornettes turned the tables on the Cougars, who eliminated them from the playoffs last year with a 32-28 win in the championship game of the Class 2A Sesser-Valier Sectional.
"I don't know how well they shoot free throws, but it seems like they shoot 100 percent when they play us,'' Central coach Nathan Rueter said. "You have to tip your cap. Big players make big shots in big games. We started fouling with like four minutes left because the game was getting away from us and we had no other recourse.''
The Hornettes' three senior starters -- Shaye Harre, Rennergarbe and Erica Brown -- stepped up.
Shaye Harre also had nine rebounds, Rennergarbe was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and Brown had seven points and played her usual suffocating defense.
"Usually when we have seniors here, they give it their best,'' Wayne Harre said. "That's the way we've had it in the program since I have been there. Those three did a great job for us.''
The Hornettes (29-2), ranked fourth in Class 2A, advance to play the Red Bud Musketeers (18-10) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the championship game of the Dupo Sectional.
The Cougars, who were ranked second in Class 2A and placed second in the state last year, ended their season at 29-3. They had a 14-game winning streak snapped, losing for the first time since dropping a 44-31 decision to Nashville in the championship game of the Mascoutah Tournament.
The Cougars were led by Maddie Timmermann and April Gebke each with 13 points.
The Cougars shot 32 percent (13-for-41) for the game, including 24 percent (5-for-21) from the 3-point line.
"That's a testament to Nashville and their defense,'' Rueter said. "The bottom line is that we didn't make shots that we needed to make, especially early. I felt like in the first quarter we had several opportunities from point-blank range, and we didn't convert.''
Brown scored on a layup and Shaye Harre hit a 3-pointer and then scored inside as the Hornettes grabbed a 7-0 lead.
"Let's be honest, they've been playing the best basketball around the area,'' Wayne Harre said. "They've been crushing people. They really haven't had a close game for a while. For us to get a start like that and get out the gate, it was huge.''
The Hornettes led 9-2 after another basket by Shaye Harre, but the Cougars heated up after missing their first seven shots.
Timmermann and Gebke both scored to cut the Cougars' deficit to 9-6 by the end of the first quarter.
Rennergarbe hit a 12-footer at the start of the second quarter, but the Cougars would score the next seven points to go ahead 13-11 on a basket by Timmermann.
Another 3-pointer by Shaye Harre capped a 7-0 surge for the Hornettes that put them back in front 17-13 with two minutes left in the first half.
Central freshman Kendra Wilken scored from close range late in the period to get the Cougars within 17-15 at halftime.
The Cougars got within 21-20 on a 3-pointer by Gebke, but the Hornettes scored eight unanswered points to close out the third quarter, including two layups by Brown, to gain a 29-20 cushion.
Red Bud 43, Carterville 40
Playing with the flu, Ali Ringering scored nine of her game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Red Bud Musketeers rallied late to beat the Carterville Lions.
"I got it yesterday,'' Ringering said of the flu. "I wasn't missing this game.''
Ringering actually left the game for a short time in the third quarter because she was feeling ill.
"The poor kid has the flu right now, and we had to take her out of the game,'' Red Bud coach Janelle Pfeiffer said. "That might be the second time all year that she has come out of the game. She's been sick both times. There is a reason why she is our go-to girl. I'm just so proud of the way we fought back.''
The Musketeers fell behind by six points after a 3-pointer by Carterville's Avery English in the third quarter.
"We knew there as a lot of time left,'' Ringering said. "We just kept playing and giving it everything we had.''
The Musketeers trailed 35-31 early in the fourth quarter, but got within two on a 3-pointer by Ringering and then took the lead on a layup by Ringering with 54 seconds to play.
Senior Jen Oakley turned in the key defensive play of the game when she tied up a Carterville player in the lane for a jump ball with 6.6 seconds remaining.
"The biggest jump ball we've had all year, and I don't think Jenny even realizes it,'' Ringering said.
The ball went to the Musketeers, who got two free throws from Ringering with five seconds left to seal the win.
"Jen Oakley comes up with the biggest jump ball of her career, and from that point on, I pretty well knew that it was going to be all right,'' Pfeiffer said.
Red Bud's Grace Richards stole the ball on the ensuing inbounds, but lost control of it and the Lions called time out with 0.1 seconds left.
With no chance of getting off a game-tying shot, the Lions inbounded the ball under the Musketeers' basket and held it as time ran out.
The Musketeers also got 10 points, including three 3-pointers from Jessica Otten.
The Lions ended their season at 21-11.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.