BREESE — When weighing trying to play on a sprained left ankle against sitting out the Class 2A Central Regional championship in his final game at home, it was a no-brainer for Cougars senior Austin "Hoot" Rickhoff.
He was all in.
Rickhoff provided an emotional lift Friday by draining two quick 3-pointers and scoring 11 points as defending state champion Central won its fifth straight regional title with a 52-39 victory over Carlyle.
"If I could help my team in any way by going out and trying to play one-footed I'll do it, because I love these guys so much," said Rickhoff, playing for the first time since Feb. 8. "I'll do anything. Whatever it takes for a regional championship."
Central (21-9) advanced to the Greenville Sectional and will face Robinson at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the semifinals.
Senior center Kyler Scheer had another big game for Central with a team-leading 15 points and 10 rebounds while Jacob Timmermann added 11 points and Luis Perez had 10.
But Rickhoff's presence seemed to provide the extra spark necessary to help Central defeat a top-seeded Carlyle squad that had beaten the Cougars twice in Cahokia Conference play this season.
"I think it was big for the rest of our kids to know the pain that he's went through and he's out there trying to suck it up and play," Central coach Stan Eagleson when asked about the emotional lift Rickhoff provided just by stepping onto the court. "I think it depends on who it is. But with Austin, he's one of our captains, he's one of our leaders and I think with him especially, it was just huge for our kids."
Central trainer Marty Stewart used everything in his orthopedic repertoire trying to get Rickhoff back to action.
"Our trainer gets huge kudos. He's worked with him for the last 10 days," Eagleson said. "(Rickhoff) warmed up for five minutes and he gave me the thumbs-up, so that's when we made the decision. About 10 minutes before the game."
Carlyle finished the season 23-8 and was done in by the Cougars' hot shooting, Central hit 7 of 14 3-pointers and was 19-of-35 (54 percent) from the floor overall.
"When they shoot it as well as they did tonight they're going to be hard to beat regardless of who they play," Carlyle coach Andy Palmer said. "They're a tough matchup. They can stretch you out and Timmermann can go off the dribble."
Rickhoff's 3-pointer just ahead of the halftime buzzer sent the teams into their locker rooms tied 25-25.
But Perez hit a quick 3 to start the third quarter and a 9-3 run put the Cougars on top to stay. They led by five heading into the fourth quarter when Luke Jackson drained back-to-back 3-pointers that put things out of reach.
"That was the dagger and got us up into double-digits I believe," Eagleson said.
Rickhoff brought instant impact for the Cougars in the first half. He nailed the first 3 he tried and hit three of his first four as the teams battled to the halftime deadlock.
Junior Matt Hilmes was nearly unstoppable inside throughout the first half, scoring 12 of Carlyle's 25 points. Scheer picked up his third foul with 2:56 remaining in the second quarter, but helped hold Hilmes to just two points in the second half.
"He's long in there, he makes it tough and I didn't think we guarded him very well in the post either," Palmer said of 6-foot-6 Scheer. "We gave up some easy buckets, especially in the first half."
Tyson Boehne added nine points for the Indians, who were 6-for-18 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Perez missed a 3-pointer try just before the half ended and the ball went out of the bounds. However, the official closest to the play ruled the shot had been tipped by a Carlyle player, giving Central another chance.
Rickhoff took the inbounds pass and drained a 3 at the buzzer to tie it 25-25.
As a senior who had lost twice to Carlyle this season, Rickhoff had a message for his team before the game.
"Beat them when it counts, that's what I said," he said. "Just beat them when it counts. They're a good basketball team."