NASHVILLE — The Central Cougars sealed the deal at the free-throw line.
The Cougars were 8-for-8 at the free-throw line, including 6-for-6 by Logan Kohrmann, in the final minute and 21 seconds to turn back the Gibault Hawks 43-36 Friday in the semfinals of the Nashville Invitational Tournament.
The Cougars (13-5) advance to play the Mater Dei Knights (15-6) at 8 p.m. Saturday in the championship game of the tourney.
"We've shot a lot more free throws in practice, and they just have to believe," said Central coach Jeremy Shubert, whose team has struggled at the free-throw line this season. "A lot of that is like the game the other night (a 61-40 win over Nashville). If they believe they can do it, that's half of the battle."
Kohrmann led the Cougars with 14 points. Mitchel Rule added eight points, Robbie Harmon had seven and Chase Schneider had six.
Kohrmann stepped up on a night when Jacob Timmermann, who had 19 points against Nashville, scored only three.
"Logan has been solid for us all year," Schubert said, "He has that savvy about him where he can step up and hit those shots. Jacob is mad at himself more than anything else. I think he really appreciates his teammates right now."
The Hawks (14-4), who will play Teutopolis Wooden Shoes (11-6) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the third-place game, were paced by Wes Degener with 13 points and Jacob Rueter with nine points on three 3-pointers.
The Hawks had trouble getting shots to fall from the onset. They fell behind 7-1 and trailed 9-3 at the end of the first quarter.
"We shot it poorly, but that came with coming out with, I thought, not a lot of energy," said Gibault coach Dennis Rueter, whose team made 12 of 42 shots from the floor, including 5-for-18 from 3-point range. "We played a little tenatively and we didn't shoot it well and it kind of snowballed."
The Hawks closed the gap to 16-15 on two free throws by Degener with 10 seconds left in the first half.
Gibault briefly took the lead on a basket by Degener at the start of the second half, but Rule hit two 3-pointers during an 8-0 run that put the Cougars back ahead 24-17.
A 3-pointer by Tyler Enright drew the Hawks within 28-26 by the end of the third quarter.
The Cougars scored the first five points of the fourth quarter on two free throws by Austen Shidle and a three-point play by Schneider to go back up by seven.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Jacob Rueter again brought the Hawks within one point, but the Cougars got a layup by Timmermann and then made their free throws down the stretch.
"They won the game in the first 28-29 minutes, and then they made free throws so we didn't come back or upset them," Rueter said.
There was a sequence with about 30 seconds left and the Cougars leading 39-36 where both teams committed turnovers.
"The shooting, that happens," Rueter said. "We turned it over way too many times. We have to be stronger with the ball."
The Cougars lost the ball, but then got it back on a steal by Rule, who could have gone for a layup but held up after initially breaking toward the basket.
"Gosh, what a steal by Mitchel Rule there," Schubert said. "That's big play. I think he wanted he to go in and shoot it. I told him to go in and shoot it, but they (his teammates) were telling him to lay back. Then we made the free throws at the end.
"That was a great win over a team that probably played the best man-to-man defense that we've seen this year."
Mater Dei 53, Teutopolis 43
Nolan Gerling scored 20 points in leading the Knights over the Wooden Shoes.
The Wooden Shoes had no answer for the 6-foot-8 Gerling, who dominated in the paint both offensively and defensively.
"He's a horse right now, and hopefully nobody figures it out for a while that that's who we are going (to)," Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said. "If they do, we have shooters on the perimeter ready to knock it down.
"Whatever they do, we have a counter for it. We have to keep doing what we are doing, and doing it well."
The Knights also got 13 points from Ben Lampe.
Brett Mette was the leading scorer for the Wooden Shoes with 18 points.
The Knights held a narrow 27-26 lead at halftime, but stretched it to 40-34 by the end of the third quarter.
A rebound basket by Gerling and a layup by Lampe gave the Knights a 48-38 advantahe with 3:16 left to play.
The Wooden Shoes trimmed their deficit to 49-43 on a 3-pointer by Bobby Wenthe with 44 seconds on the clock, but the Knights sank four straight free throws, two apiece by Lampe and Sam Toennies, to clinch the victory and a matchup against the archrival Knights.
"We're looking forward to it," Schadegg said. "There's no bad blood. Jeremy and I get along real well. I have a ton of respect for him and his program.
"It's just going to be a good high school basketball game, and hopefully we can be competitive with them and stay in the game with them."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.