Dave Kohnen led the Mater Dei girls basketball program to Illinois’ Final Four in his first season as Knights head coach, 27 seasons ago.
He hasn’t been there since.
But with smothering ball pressure, Mater Dei held Nashville scoreless for nearly nine minutes in the second half and, with a 46-25 win over the Hornettes on Thursday, captured the championship of the Class 2A Johnston City Sectional.
The victory puts Kohnen’s program back to within one win of Bloomington’s Redbird Arena and the state tournament.
“This is great for the whole program and for the school,” said Kohnen, who has more than 500 victories on his coaching resume. “This whole postseason, these girls have made a commitment to running our offense the way it’s supposed to be run. We’re really getting there.”
Mater Dei (20-10) will face (Camp Point) Central, Waverly Sectional champions, at the Jacksonville Super-Sectional at 7 p.m. Monday.
The Knights shot 42.5 percent for the game, despite missing eight shots in a row in the first half. They shot 57 percent in the second half.
But defense was key for Mater Dei, which got its revenge for a 44-28 loss to the Hornettes in January.
The Knights held Nashville (19-5) to just 30 percent shooting from the field, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range.
Mater Dei held the lead from start to finish, but neither offense was able to clear its cylinders through the first 16 minutes. A Kierra Winkeler gave Mater Dei a 5-2 lead at the end of of the first quarter and a short jumper from Nashville’s Paige Kasten sent the game into halftime at 11-10.
It was still a two-point game when Kasten hit a pair of free throws at the 5:55 mark of the third quarter. But it was the last points Nashville would score until 5:09 of the fourth.
Mater Dei senior Logan Braundmeier’s 3-pointer sparked a 13-0 run that put the Knights ahead 29-14 and in full command. Myah Beckman also scored four points during the rally.
Kasten stopped the Mater Dei run, but the Knights closed on a 14-6 run, landing 11 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter alone.
The Knights’ work on junior post player Karly Stanowski was a key factor in shutting down Nashville’s offense. Stanowski reached double figures in the Hornettes’ Jan. 28 win over Mater Dei.
“I think the biggest thing is they had more pressure on the ball, and it was hard to pass it in there to (Stanowski),” Nashville coach Doug Althoff said. “Maybe she didn’t get enough touches, but if somebody is up in your face, it’s hard to pass the ball. We couldn’t get it inside. Their defense is good.”
“Last year we didn’t even get out of the regional. This year we made it to the Sweet 16,” said Althoff, who will lose just one player to graduation. “That’s how it works. Now they’ve been there, and most of the team is back. Hopefully we’ll get a little further next year.”
Senior Kelsey Gerdes scored a game-high 11 points for Mater Dei, followed by Braundmeier’s 10. Winkeler and Beckman each added nine points.
Kasten led Nashville with 10 points.