WATERLOO — The return of Darius Austin after a potential season-ending ankle injury proved less serious than originally thought provided an emotional boost for the Cahokia Comanches.
Keenan Minor pumped in 27 points and Vincent Jackson added 24 points as the Comanches beat the Althoff Crusaders 77-63 Friday in the championship game of the Class 3A Waterloo Regional.
The 6-foot-7 Austin scored only five points, but he made his presence felt on the inside.
"Going into this game, we didn't think we were going to have Austin," Minor said. "With him back, that's a big impact on the team. He's a big difference as far as rebounding, scoring, passing.
"He pretty much does it all on the floor. He's a big part of the team."
Austin's injury was feared to be a broken bone at first, but he found out Wednesday that it was a deep bruise.
"It was tough just trying to get back with my team," said Austin, who sat out the Comanches' 70-58 win over Freeburg on Tuesday. "I saw that my team needed me on Tuesday. This was my first game back, and I felt rusty. I should be fine by next week."
The Comanches (29-3), ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 3A, advance to the Mascoutah Sectional. They'll play the Carbondale Terriers (19-9), another South Seven Conference rival, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Terriers beat Mount Vernon 38-31 Friday in the title game of the Carbondale Regional.
The Crusaders ended their season at 14-13. They'll lose seniors Erik Furmanek and Ryan Marcum, but they'll return the nucleus of their team, including freshmen Brendon Gooch and Keenen Young.
"It depends on the amount of work the guys put in between now and next year," Althoff coach Greg Leib said. "If they wait for Mother Nature to do the work for them, it's not going to be very good. It's going to be the same thing.
"But, if they get out and do some work, we have an opportunity to be a pretty good ballclub next year."
Gooch led the Crusaders with 23 points, while Young had 17 points and junior Kevin Renner had 16.
"Normally, if we get guys in those ranges (of scoring), we feel pretty good about our opportunity," Leib said. "With Cahokia, their more difficult to contain. It's the fortunes of war. We have to play a more perfect ballgame than they do, and our margin of error is less. They were able to execute on some of our mishaps.
"They're a good ballclub and I wish them the best. I hope they make it to the Elite Eight this year."
The Comanches also got 15 points from Carleton Rivers.
Gooch scored seven of the Crusaders' first nine points in leading them out to a 9-2 lead.
Minor connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer ending the first quarter, in pushing the Comanches in front 15-11.
Minor was 3-for-13 shooting against Freeburg, but he bounced back from the bad-shooting night.
"You can count on that," Cahokia coach Darian Nash said. "He is going to come out with a good game some how, some way."
The Comanches capped off a 12-0 run with two free throws by Minor at the start of the second quarter.
The Crusaders closed the gap to 23-19 on a basket by Eric Mertens, but the Comanches reeled off a 12-4 run to go up 35-23.
The Comanches led 37-27 at halftime and extended their lead to 41-27 after baskets by Minor and Austin.
A layup by Rivers put the Comanches ahead 49-30.
The Crusaders drew within 13 points on a three-point play by Young with 3:40 to play, and they got within 12 on a basket by Furmanek with 50 seconds remaining.
The Comanches converted 15 of their 18 free-throw chances in the fourth quarter to hold the Crusaders at bay.
Minor was 6-for-6 and Derenzo Jennings was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final quarter.
"We have to foul the right guys," Leib said. "Fouling Keenan Minor, he's not going to miss those free throws."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.