To offset what he was certain would be a lockdown defense on senior all-stater Kendra Wilken, Central coach Nathan Rueter challenged the rest of his team to step on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Scott Credit Union Girls Tournament.
Senior guards Faye Meissner and Breanne Jansen accepted that challenge.
Tough as nails with hearts to match, Meissner and Jansen combined for 23 points as Central moved into the title game with a 49-46 win over the Class 3A power Knights.
In a game that featured two of the top five teams in the metro-east, the Cougars (19-3) and Knights (15-3) battled down to the wire and it wasn’t until Wilken blocked a shot by Triad junior Sam Bassler that Central could start to celebrate another trip to the title game of the annual Mid-January event.
“I’m proud of this basketball team. We beat a very good basketball team in Triad, and coach (Josh) Hunt for the job that he has done to get that program where it is is to be commended,’’ Rueter said. “We knew coming in here tonight that this game would probably go down to the wire. We’re just very glad to be back in the title game.’’
The win pushes Central into the title game at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, where it will take on the winner of the Salem-Belleville West semifinal, which will be played on Thursday.
Meissner led Central with 14 points, while Wilken added 12 and Jansen chipped in with nine. High scoring Knights senior Sophie Thompson led her team with 20 points. But the 5-10 Thompson was only 5-of-17 from the floor. Abby Burroughs chipped in with 15.
With the Cougars guards storming the offensive boards and a tight defense contesting every shot put up by Thompson, Central held a six to eight point lead for much of the second half. But when Bassler nailed two 3-point baskets and Thompson nailed two free throws, a 10-point Central lead was cut to 46-43 with still 2 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game.
Following a Central timeout, the Cougars spread the floor and a tired Knights defense tried to chase them. Jansen and Grace Yaunches made free throws as the Cougars managed to hold their lead, but with nine seconds left, Triad was still in position to send the game into overtime.
But it didn’t happen.
“We knew that they (Central) would be watching Sophie and so we set up a play with a couple of options for Sam (Bassler) and Central did a great job in defending,’’ Triad coach Josh Hunt said. “We gave it an effort and I thought we played hard. We would love to be playing in the title game on Saturday, but this isn’t the end of our season.
“The difference in the game was their offensive rebounding. Especially their guards did a tremendous job.’’
The Cougars guards of Jansen, Meissner and Yaunches were all over the court.
“We knew Triad would attempt to stop Kendra inside and before the game I told the team that we were going to need someone to step up and make a difference,’’ Rueter said. “I thought Faye, Breanne and Grace did a good job.’’
Consolation bracket play Teutopolis 40, Mater Dei 37
Senior guard Shelby Thompson hit a 3-point jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining as the Wooden Shoes advanced into the consolation title game with the win over the Knights.
Ranked in the top 10 of the Class 2A state poll, T-Town (18-7) regained possession of the ball with 40 seconds remaining and worked the clock down when Thompson hit her clutch game winning 3-point shot.
Thompson led the Wooden Shoes with 13 points, while junior Kelsey Gerdes paced Mater Dei (11-9) with 12 points.
Taylorville 41, Nashville 34
Senior Kailey Talley scored eight of her game-high 12 points in the fourth quarter as the Tornado stormed past the Hornettes and into the consolation title game at 10 a.m. Saturday against Teutopolis.
Nashville (14-7) was led by Mackenzie McFeron with 11 points.