MASCOUTAH — With their opponents in a weakened state, the Central Cougars pounced quickly Saturday in the title game of the 36th annual Mascoutah Girls Basketball Invitational.
Senior Maddie Timmermann and sophomore Kendra Wilken keyed a 20-0 run in the second and third quarters and Central held off a late Belleville West rally for a 55-46 win before a large turnout at Mascoutah High School.
The title is the first at Mascoutah for Central since it won three in a row from 1999-2001.
West, coming off an emotional win over 2012 champion Nashville in the semifinals, led 23-16 midway through the second quarter. But when first 6-foot-5 senior Jesheon Cooper and then junior guard Shay Fluker went to the bench with two fouls apiece, the 6-1 Wilken and 5-10 Timmermann took over in the post and the Cougars took over the game.
Central (15-0) outscored West (9-4) 14-0 over the final four minutes of the opening half to take a 30-23 lead.
Wilken, who led Central with 22 points, scored twice and Torre Kohrmann tallied inside in the opening three minutes of the third quarter as Central's lead grew to 36-23.
Fluker ended the run with a free throw with 4:41 left in the third quarter. But by that time Central had a 36-24 advantage
"I was really happy with the way the kids responded. We weren't doing a very good job, at least early, of matching their athleticism. That was something we hadn't seen all year with their quickness and jumping ability,'' Cougars coach Nathan Rueter said. "We were able to get the Cooper kid and the Fluker kid in foul trouble in the second quarter and then we just went to work on them inside.
"We had enough savvy to exploit it without calling time out and talking about it.'
Timmermann, playing with a painful back injury, finished with 15 points for Central, while Kohrmann added 14.
Trailing by as many as 13 points, the Maroons rallied behind Fluker (17 points) and Imani Berry (16).
West cut its deficit to five points on numerous occasions in the second half, but could get no closer.
"If you take out that stretch in the second and third quarters, we outscored them,'' West coach Clayton Fisher aid. "Now who is to say that we wouldn't have done that if they (Cooper and Fluker) were in the game.
"The bottom line is that we've got to learn to stay out of foul trouble.''
Nashville 28, Mater Dei 26
Rebounding from an emotional semifinal loss to Belleville West three hours earlier, the defending Class 2A state champion Hornettes outlasted Mater Dei in the third-place game.
Senior Shawn Rennegarbe scored five of her 10 points and Kiley Pelker added a key 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter for Nashville (13-1).
"There were two pretty tired basketball teams out there,'' Nashville coach Wayne Harre said. "When that happens you are apt to make more mistakes and we made our share. But I was proud of the effort. We did enough good things to get the win.''
Getting six points from Lauren Donnewald, Mater Dei (8-6) led 11-10 early. But when the Hornettes dropped back on defense, Mater Dei couldn't take advantage.
"We just didn't knock down any shots,'' Knights coach David Kohnen said. "When you don't hit shots, defenses are going to sag until you do. We didn't finish.''
Highland 56, Carbondale 43
Olivia LaPorta scored 18 points as Highland (9-4) wore down the Terriers late and breezed to the fifth-place trophy.
Leading 43-38 after three quarters, the Bulldogs got six points from the 5-foot, 10-inch LaPorta in the final period as they broke the game open.
"This was a good day for Highland girls basketball,'' said first-year Bulldogs coach Mike Arbuthnot, whose team finished the tournament 3-1. "We beat a very good (Belleville East) team this morning and then to come back and win against a very good Carbondale team, I'm very pleased.
"With a new coach with a new system coming in this year, it's taken a while for the girls to learn what we want, but we're starting to get it.''
Amanda Ponce added 14 points for Highland. McKena Miller led Carbondale (5-5) with 18 points.
O'Fallon 58, Althoff 43
Senior Jasmine Bonds scored eight of her 22 points to spark an 18-1 scoring run in the third quarter as the Panthers (7-4) went on to capture the consolation title with a win over the Crusaders.
Althoff (6-4) led 28-23 at halftime, but the Panthers' defense tightened in the final period as they broke the game open.
"We would have loved to have won our first game and been in the winner's bracket, O'Fallon coach Ryan Massey said. "But to our girls' credit, they were able to put that loss behind them and come back and beat three quality opponents.''
Ciara Jones added 12 points for the Panthers. Madison Weilbacher and Kyliegh Vaught led Althoff with 10 points apiece.
Central 42, Mater Dei 29
Senior Maddie Timmermann scored 18 points as the top-seeded Cougars won another battle of Breese, this time in the tournament semifinals.
Just three weeks after a 53-30 trouncing at Central, the Knights slowed the powerful Cougars a bit, but couldn't match the inside combination of Timmermann and the 6-1 Wilken, who added 11 points.
A bit sluggish after an impressive quarterfinal win over Highland, Central used a 14-3 run in the second period to break the game open.
The Cougars led 23-9 at halftime.
"That was a key part in the ballgame,'' Rueter said. "We had that nice little run there and were able to open the lead.
"Elite teams are able to find a way to get it done on days when things aren't working exactly the way you want. That's what we did today.''
Avoynna Kampwerth scored 10 points for Mater Dei, which once again baffled its opponent with its tight zone defense. But offensively, the Knights were no match for Central.
"We're getting better,'' Knights coach David Kohnen said. "We just didn't hit enough shots. I was pleased with our effort."
Belleville West 30, Nashville 28
Junior Shay Fluker ended the drama of a tight battle when she made two free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining as the Maroons ended the repeat hopes of the Hornettes.
Tied at 28 and after calling its second time out in the final 10 seconds, the inbounds pass went to Fluker who drove the lane and was fouled by Nashville junior Jordi Harre.
Fluker made both shots and when a desperation attempt fell well short at the buzzer, West had its biggest win of the season.
"We had a couple of options there. Shay could have given it back to Jesheon (Cooper) in the post or she could take it to the basket,'' West coach Clayton Fisher said. "I know it sounds cliche after we win the game. But this a great high school basketball game. It had everything you could want. Two good teams, a big crowd and a game that goes down to the last three seconds. I would feel the same way even if we had lost.''
Early in the third quarter, it looked like West was headed to the third-place game.
Tied at 12 at halftime, Nashville went on a 13-4 run over the first five minutes of the third quarter as Harre, Hannah Young and Emily Thompson all hit 3s, putting the Hornettes up 25-16.
West closed the third quarter with an 8-0 run, setting the stage for a low-scoring fourth quarter dominated by the defenses.
"West is a very quick, athletic team. It's team that we just don't matchup very well against,'' Hornettes coach Wayne Harre said. "We tried. I'm thought we gave a good effort and played hard.''
Highland 57, Belleville East 47
Amanda Ponce scored 24 points and Emily Holtzclaw added 16 points as the Bulldogs reached the fifth-place game.
Brynesha Mosby led East (8-6) with 15 points.
Carbondale 59, Mascoutah 48
Kandace Jones scored 14 points and McKena Miller added 13 as Carbondale edged the Indians in a consolation semifinal.
One of three players in double figures, Maddie Nekola topped Mascoutah with 13 points.