BREESE — After leaving the door open ever so slightly early in the second half Friday while leading by 12 points, the Mater Dei Knights forgot to slam it shut.
Central climbed back into the game with 3-point shooting and won the Class 2A Mater Dei Regional championship 41-38 on a three-point play by Jacob Timmermann with just over a minute remaining.
It was the sixth straight regional championship for the Cougars (22-8), who will face Teutopolis in a 7 p.m. game Tuesday at the Vandalia Sectional.
Timmermann drove to the basket and hit a shot while the standing-room-only crowd waited to see if the official would call a block or charging. The call was a block, so the shot counted and Timmermann hit the free throw with a minute and 9 seconds remaining to finish off a play that proved to be the game-winner.
"It's one of the best comebacks I've ever seen," sad Central coach Jeremy Shubert, whose team outscored Mater Dei 15-6 in the fourth quarter. "Our kids were just relentless. To win games in the postseason you've got to grind it out and you've got to be able to make shots, and we stepped up tonight.
"To be regional champs for six years in a row ... I can't put it into words, guys."
Mater Dei (19-10) had several opportunities and plenty of time to try to get the game tied and into overtime. Trying to crack the tight Central defense, the Knights got three 3-point shots from Zach Deiters that were off the mark.
The third came after Timmermann missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 6.8 seconds remaining.
Mater Dei led 24-12 early in the third quarter before the Cougars finally found some life on 3s by Mitchel Rule and Chase Schneider.
A bucket by Mater Dei's Ben Lampe gave the Knights a 32-26 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
"I think offensively we got a little stale and I'll take the blame on that," Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said. "We didn't try to switch it, we tried to stick with something that's been successful for us for quite some time."
Central continued the second-half comeback with a 3-pointer by sophomore Logan Kohrmann, then battled back to tie it on a 3 from the corner by Chase Schneider with 3:15 remaining.
The impact of the shot seemed to swing the momentum back the Cougars' way.
"No bigger plays this season than Chase Schneider's 3 and then Jacob taking it to the hole," Shubert said.
After Schneider's shot, Lampe scored for Mater Dei to put the Knights back on top. Kohrmann hit a short jumper in the lane and the Cougars forced a turnover that led to Timmermann's drive to the basket.
He was fouled by Mater Dei's Nolan Gerling and then finished off the three-point play by hitting a free throw.
"When he called a block on Nolan, the kid was set, flat-footed, dead-eye set," Schadegg said, "and he went the other way with it."
"We were supposed to go for one shot," Timmermann said. "They weren't playing good defense on me, I just took it all the way and made the play."
The Knights still had opportunities after that and could not get a shot to fall.
Kohrmann scored nine of his team-leading 13 points in the second half and Timmermann finished with 10.
"(Jacob Timmermann) does so much," Shubert said. "He may only average 12 or 13 points a game, but when he can get to the rim and he can hold other guys down ... we held a great offensive team to 38 points tonight. Our defense was just superb."
The 6-foot-8 Gerling shredded the smaller Cougars early, erupting for nine of his team's 11 points in the first quarter. He scored only six points the rest of the way and took only two more field-goal attempts.
Brendan Timmermann and Zach Haake had six points each for the Knights.
"I think we could have had a little bit better intensity there toward the end defensively, a sense of urgency to make sure we get stops," Schadegg said. "We were kind of content, hoping they would miss shots and we would get the rebound instead of dictating what was happening."