HIGHLAND — Central coach Nathan Rueter had no complaints after his squad put on a defensive clinic in the first half against the Mater Dei Knights.
The Cougars limited the Knights to four points in the first half, including a scoreless second quarter, to post a 52-32 win on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Scott Credit Union/Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
"The way we came out and played is just a testament to these kids' focus," Rueter said. "I'm very proud of them. They came out and defended extremely well. For our kids to come out and play with the intensity they played with, it was pretty impressive."
The win sends the defending tourney champion Cougars (22-0) back to championship game. They'll play either the Belleville West Maroons or the Teutopolis Wooden Shoes at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the title.
The Knights (14-7) will play the loser of the Belleville West-Teutopolis matchup at 1 p.m. Saturday in the third-place game.
Kendra Wilken led the Cougars with 23 points. Torre Kohrmann added 14 points.
Maddie Timmermann had eight points, but dominated the game with her defense and her passing.
"Maddie had a great game tonight," Rueter said. "Defensively, she was great. She passed the ball great. She handled the ball great.
"People that look at a box score and pay attention to the scoring obviously are missing the boat with her tonight."
Madeline Lager was the top scorer for the Knights with seven points, all in the second half.
Lauren Donnewald had six points, including four points in the first quarter that accounted for all of the Knights' first-half scoring.
"It had a lot to do with their defense, but it had a lot to do with our shot selection and just executing our offense,'' Mater Dei coach Dave Kohnen said of his team's offensive woes in the first half. "We just didn't do it. I'm not taking anything away. Their defense in the first half was excellent."
The Cougars led 12-4 at the end of the first quarter and then outscored the Knights 11-0 in the second quarter to go up 23-4.
Wilken scored eight straight points for the Cougars in the second quarter.
A 3-pointer by Lindsay Perkes early in the third quarter ended the Knights' scoring drought.
A three-point play and a 3-pointer by Lager enabled the Knights to close the gap to 28-15 in the third quarter, but the Knights went back up 40-17 on a basket by Kohrmann off a nifty move in the lane at the end of the period.
O'Fallon 49, Okawville 37
Ally Warren had 17 points and Ciara Jones and Jasmine Bonds each had 12 points as the Panthers beat the Rockets.
O'Fallon (10-7) will play the Nokomis Redskins at 10 a.m. Saturday in the consolation championship.
The Panthers jumped out to 17-6 lead, but they were unable to pull away from the Rockets.
"Last night, we didn't have a good start," O'Fallon coach Ryan Massey said of 52-31 win over Vandalia on Wednesday. "We were down 10-0 and then we kind of picked it up at the end.
"Right now, we need some passion, we need some energy for the game. We're playing very flat as a team."
The Rockets closed the gap to eight points in the third quarter, but the Panthers went on a 9-0 run to go up 40-25.
Massey felt like his team didn't defend well or rebound well enough in the game.
"We have to execute the fundamentals of the game better," Massey said. "Hat's off to Okawville. They have a great tradition at Okawville.
"I'm new to the area overall, but I do understand the great basketball that comes from Okawville. They are well-coached and they played extremely hard tonight. They played like they wanted it tonight. Every time the ball was loose or a rebound was up, they fought and they battled and I think we just watched and kind became spectators of the game."
Warren scored five points during the Panthers' 9-0 rally.
"Warren is capable of being a tremendous player for us every night out," Massey said. "She does a great job on the glass, she can defend. She can guard anybody on the perimeter when she flat-out puts her mind to it."
Allison Koch had 13 points for the Rockets. She was 7-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Nokomis 46, Althoff 37
Ashley Schneider poured in 28 points, including 20 in the first half, in leading the Redskins over the Crusaders.
"She hurt us all night," Althoff coach Todd Hill said of the 5-foot-10 Schneider. "We struggled matching up with her. What it came down to was us making shots in the second half.
"Rachel (Kaltwasser) hit shots for us all night, but we didn't get anything out of the post tonight, points in the paint. It's hard to win when you're one-dimensional like that."
Kaltwasser, a senior guard, scored 13 of her 19 points in the first half as the Crusaders trailed 24-23 at the break.
"She has been stepping up as a senior and playing some good basketball," Hill said of Kaltwasser, who connected on five 3-pointers. "Tonight, it was their zone (defense). We knew they were going to go zone, and we talked about moving and attacking the zone.
"We started standing against it, and we relied on the 3 a little too much instead of getting some dribble penetration."
The Crusaders (7-7), who exit the tourney, also got nine points from Kyliegh Vaught.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.