Girls Basketball

Central and Nashville advance to sectional final for fourth straight year

There aren’t many girls basketball teams that post 40-point victories in a sectional, but there’s not too many teams like the Central Cougars.

Central flexed its inside-outside attack to perfection Wednesday, getting 24 points inside from junior Kendra Wilken and 12 points outside from Sophie Rickhoff on the way to a 68-28 pounding of Carterville at the Class 2A Wesclin Sectional.

“We lost in the postseason last year and we don’t want to do that again,” said Wilken, a 6-foot-2 junior Division I prospect whose team reached the super-sectional last season. “We want to get our point across that we’re not going to give up.”

Point taken. Ranked third in the state, the Cougars (28-3) led Carterville (21-10) 32-17 at halftime and 45-24 after three quarters.

Central’s win win set up a fourth straight sectional championship game between the Cougars and Nashville (21-9) at 7 p.m. Friday, with Central havimg claimed two of the last three. Nashville knocked off Benton 36-29 in the other semifinal Wednesday.

Wilken missed her first couple shots, but it didn’t take long for her teammates to ignite the offense. Rickhoff had three of her four 3-pointers in the first half and Grace Yaunches had another before Wilken began blazing a path of destruction inside. Sixteen of her 24 points came in the second half.

“There’s very few teams that have answer for her,” Central coach Nathan Rueter said of Wilken. “She’s just so physically dominant and so big and mobile. She’s going to get hers and teams are going to try to take her away, but the big things for us tonight in the first half was the other kids.”

Wilken agreed, saying opponents that think the Cougars are all about her will continue to get burned. Along with Rickhoff’s 12 points, Kaylee Schrand had nine and Alicia Book had seven.

“We just didn’t have two or three people scoring, it was everyone,” Wilken said. “We had so many people in the scorebook with two or three points or even 10.”

Rickhoff helped keep all the defensive pressure from collapsing inside in an effort to stop Wilken.

“Sophie’s been hitting a lot of threes lately, so we’ve been getting it to her,” Wilken said. “So has Grace and Alicia and they’re really good at driving, so it really opens up things for me and Kaylee.”

Carterville coach Matt Crain had a good game plan going in, but things didn’t work out.

“We wanted to make them hit outside shots,” Crain said, and the Cougars did just that. “That’s what hurt us early on.”

Rueter did not expect such a one-sided outcome.

“That’s not what we anticipated tonight,” said Rueter, whose team forced Carterville into 18 turnovers. “I think our ball pressure bothered them. They missed a few shots they normally make and we were able to turn those into baskets at the other end. It kind of got away from them a little bit. It was just our night tonight.”

Nashville 36, Benton 29: The Nashville Hornettes may be small, but they are certainly feisty and aggressive. Senior Jordi Harre and freshman Paige Kasten scored 11 points each as Nashville avenged a 34-29 loss to Benton earlier this season.

“That was a gritty effort by the pipsqueaks out there,” Nashville coach Wayne Harre said. “It was a gritty effort by all six players. They did a good job of realizing what they could do and what they couldn’t do. They beat us earlier in the year and I knew we’d have our hands full with them because of their size.

“Sometimes their best offense was just to shoot it and go get a rebound.”

There were a lot of rebounds for Benton as the Rangerettes (26-5) were 2-for-17 from 3-point range and 12-for-41 overall. Nashville kept the pace slow and deliberate, picking its spots to hit some big 3-pointers and shots underneath to keep Benton playing from behind.

Trailing 12-8 early in the second quarter, Nashville scored the final eight points of the first half to take a 16-12 lead into the locker room at halftime. Neither team shot well in the first half, but Benton struggled a little more at 5-for-19.

Nashville struggled to find offense in the second half, but a 3-pointer from Jordi Harre got things going and put the Hornettes on top by five, 23-18.

Another big factor in the game was Nashville limiting Benton leading scorer Cali Carney to six points. Carney was held without a field goal until the fourth quarter and she had only two buckets to go along with two free throws.

“It wasn’t just one person (on her),” Coach Harre said. “We switched up on her a little bit. That was the key to the game, she was their main cog and I thought we did a good job on her.”

Mackenzie McFeron added seven points for Nashville while Katie Sandusky led the way for Benton with 10. Carney’s six was the next highest total.

Nashville’s lack of size could be a problem against Central in the sectional final, but its semifinal was won with scrappy play and intensity.

“It takes all of us,” Coach Harre said. “When you don’t have a giant in there it takes a whole team effort and that’s what it’s all about. That’s a pretty happy group now.”