At the end of a tough week for the Gibault Hawks that saw them lose two of three games, coach Dennis Rueter got a text from one of his former players that included a ray of sunshine.
Former Hawks star John Thomas reminded Rueter how their 1998-99 squad struggled right before the playoffs, then got hot and finished second at the Class A state tournament.
"We were really bad, then got in the postseason and started playing well," said Rueter, whose team lost 61-60 at Triad and 43-33 at Okawville before pounding Pinckneyville 51-32 Saturday.
Gibault (17-6) received a first-place vote in the Class 1A state rankings last week, where the Hawks were fourth. They remain one of the area's top small-school teams thanks to a highly competitive schedule and veteran lineup, ranked fourth in the News-Democrat 1A-2A poll behind Mater Dei (17-7), Central (18-6) and Okawville (17-6).
"We've got some work to do, but we're where you would expect probably," Rueter said. "We've hit a bit of a lull and we need to pull out of it and crank it up a little bit."
Especially with the Hawks playing host to city rival Waterloo on Tuesday night.
"It's a different kind of game because of the rivalry, but it's a good game," Rueter said. "Every possession will be important and that's the way the postseason is, every possession is important. It's certainly a good learning experience for our kids."
Rueter credited Triad and Okawville for both playing well, especially Okawville's tight defense. Triad beat Gibault 61-60 in overtime behind 19 points each from Jason Barbour and Noah Moss.
"Triad's very competitive, they played Waterloo down to the wire in overtime," Rueter said.
The Rockets helped limit Gibault to an 0-for-17 night on 3-point shots in a 43-33 victory Friday that saw Okawville freshman Noah Frederking score 19 points.
"They got a little run in there and we had a tough time scoring, " Rueter said. "They got ahead 10 or so and when you can't make baskets, it's pretty hard to catch up. We know we're good shooters, but you'd better give some credit to the other team, they must have guarded you pretty well.
"On the other hand, unless you were taking horrible shots there's no way you should be 0-for-17."
Pinckneyville had beaten Gibault 56-52 earlier this season, although the Panthers were a bit limited Saturday with starter Brian Taylor trying to play through an injury.
"They were a little short-handed, but it was still a good win for us," Rueter said. "Basically from the tip we had them; we had them down and pretty much controlled play."
Clinton County showdown
In Round II of the always entertaining Central-Mater Dei boys basketball rivalry, Mater Dei (17-7) claimed a 53-41 victory that allowed the Knight to split the season series in a battle between two of the state's top-ranked Class 2A teams.
Eric Vandeloo and Nolan Gerling had 11 points each for Mater Dei, which got nine from improving sophomore guard Brendan Timmermann and eight from Zach Haake.
Central senior Jacob Timmermann, whose basketball recruiting interest is heating up, led all scorers with 16 points.
Central (18-6) won the first meeting against Mater Dei 49-38 in the championship game of the Nashville Invitational.
The teams figure to battle for the top seed at the Class 2A Mater Dei Regional, where Carlyle, Wesclin and Dupo will also compete.
"It doesn't matter," Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said. "There's five teams in it and you've got to beat two of the five to advance."
Schadegg grew up in the Breese area and was a basketball standout at Mater Dei. This is his first season coaching the Knights at his old school after spending the past several years coaching in Florida.
One thing he missed in the Sunshine State was the Mater Dei-Central rivalry.
"That's a big reason why, from a coaching perspective, it was intriguing to come back here," he said, "to be involved in those kind events. It's just a great atmosphere and a great environment. A lot of fun for the kids, the fans, coaches and everybody."
Central saw its 12-game winning streak end and has split with Mater Dei and Carlyle this season while also collecting wins over Gibault and Nashville.
Cougars coach Jeremy Shubert said several factors led to Mater Dei's win the second time around.
"Our young kids didn't play with a lot of energy until the fourth quarter and by then it was too late," said Shubert, whose team led early before struggling. "We went cold about two minutes into the second quarter and that carried over into the third quarter. There was a time of about 22 minutes where Jacob (Timmermann) was the only one that scored."
Now 9-1 in its last 10 games, the Knights used an ever-changing approach to help foil the Cougars.
"Defensively we changed some things up and did a better job of covering the perimeter and covering their shooters," Schadegg said. "They didn't have the opportunity to let it go as quick or as often as they wanted to the last time. We were a little bit more aggressive, trying to force them into doing things they didn't want to do."