The postseason typically has been a time for the Central Cougars to shine.
Streaking Central (24-4) hopes that pattern continues as it competes in Class 3A for the first time after seven years in Class 2A. The Cougars, with 22 wins in 23 games, are seeded No. 1 in the Civic Memorial Regional and will shoot for its 12th regional crown since 2003.
“You’ve got to have good guard play,” Cougars coach Jeremy Shubert said. “We’ve had good guard play and we’ve had good senior leadership. We had a good group of seniors last year, led by Logan Kohrmann, Mitchel Rule, Corben Zanger and Chase Schneider.
“This year, Jack (Strieker) and Kolby (Schulte) are my seniors, but it doesn’t stop there. The (Joe) Ratermann boy has been outstanding for us. We have seven seniors on the varsity roster and they’ve all contributed this year in numerous ways.”
The Cougars, who won the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament and the Nashville Invitational Tournament, will play No. 7 Columbia or No. 10 Jerseyville in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Columbia will meet Jerseyville at 6 p.m. Monday, followed by another first-round game between No. 5 Civic Memorial and No. 12 Roxana.
Triad, seeded fourth, will meet the Civic Memorial-Roxana winner at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Central has defeated Cahokia Conference rival Columbia twice this season, 56-36 and 55-28, but has not played any of the other teams in the regional.
If the seeds hold, the Cougars would play Triad (19-9), which tied Civic Memorial for the Mississippi Valley Conference championship.
“I’ve seen Triad on some film and seen them live one time,” Shubert said. “Coach (Josh) Hunt and I have a great relationship. We trade film throughout the season. If I can help him out, he helps me out.”
Shubert said the Knights would be a formidable opponent if both reach the title game. Triad senior Noah Moss averages 16.6 points and is a handful for every defense.
“Noah has been in that starting lineup for four years and he’s a 1,000-point scorer,” Shubert said. “He’s got a great feel for the game. And they’ve got some guys who buy in to what Josh is doing. They work, they play hard and play good, sound defense. They’ve got a couple of guys that can shoot from the perimeter. They’re well-rounded as well.”
Schulte leads the Cougars in scoring at 13.2 points per game, followed by Strieker at 11.5 points and junior Tyler Joest at 10.3 points.
“We’ve had a good run with 22 out of 23 and just losing by two to Okawville,” said Shubert, whose team’s only blemish since Dec. 2 was a 60-58 decision against the host Rockets on Feb. 17. “They’ve got an outstanding team this year and I hope they can go to state here in a week and a half.”
Shubert expects playing in Class 3A to be a formidable challenge.
“The games are going to be much more physical. We’ve got to make sure we bring our toughness each and every night,” Shubert said. “The 2A regionals and sectionals were tough, but I think you could have five more physical guys on the court for most teams in the postseason in 3A than you do in 2A.”
Class 3A Mater Dei Regional
Cahokia (18-10) is seeded second in the six-team field at Mater Dei, followed by the No. 2 Knights (17-11).
The Comanches will meet No. 8 Freeburg or No. 9 Waterloo in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Mater Dei will play No. 6 Highland or No. 11 Mascoutah at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The first-round games at at 6 and 7:30 p.m. Monday. The title game is at 7 p.m. Friday.
Cahokia closed the season with three losses in five South Seven Conference games, narrow decisions against Marion, Carbondale and Centralia. Senior Thomas Bell leads the Comanches in scoring (18.2 points) and rebounding (8.5), while senior Jakorey Davis averages 11.7 points.
“I think it’s going to be a great tournament,” Cahokia coach Darian Nash said. “You’ve got to come to play every night. We’ve got a tough schedule. It’s not a schedule you can do down and say, ‘Oh, they should have won that (game).’ We do that by design to get us ready for March. We play the toughest schedule we can play so we’ll be battle-tested.”
The only team in the field Cahokia has played is Highland, a game the Comanches won 50-35 in the Jerseyville Tournament on Jan. 18.
Mater Dei has won four of five since a 58-44 loss at Belleville West on Feb. 7, the only loss during that span being a 53-52 nail-biter to visiting Althoff.
“We’ve been playing a little bit better as of late, and playing at home certainly is helpful,” said Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said. “This time of year, it’s difficult to advance, regardless. We’ve been playing the last five or six games as well as we have (all season). We’ve had better energy and spirit among the team.”
The Knights’ scoring leaders are 6-foot-8 senior Noah Gerdes (10.8 points), senior Mason Toennies (10.2) and senior Nolan Robben (9.4).
“The (Tyler) Goebel kid, the point guard, hasn’t scored a lot,” Schadegg said of the 5-8 senior. “But he’s getting the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to get there.
“I’m not so sure I would want to play us because it is hard to determine who you’re going to shut down. We’ve had contributions from so many different people the entire year.”
If Mater Dei meets Cahokia in the title game, it will be a rematch of the Columbia Regional semifinals from last year when the Knights beat the Comanches 50-47 in overtime.
Class 3A Civic Memorial Regional
Top seeds: (1) Central (24-4), (4) Triad (19-9), (5) Civic Memorial (20-9)
Could challenge: Triad
Analysis: Central is playing in Class 3A for the first time, but with 24 wins in 28 games and the confidence that comes with tournament titles at Mater Dei and Nashville, the Cougars will be a tough matchup for any foe in this field. Triad, however, is a hard-working group and could pose a problem for Central in the title game. The Knights gained a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference championship with solid play down the stretch.
Class 3A Mater Dei Regional
Top seeds: (2) Cahokia (18-10), (3) Mater Dei (17-11), (6) Highland (9-19)
Could challenge: Mater Dei
Analysis: Thomas Bell presents difficulty for all Cahokia opponents, and his presence makes the Comanches a legitimate threat to win the regional. But Mater Dei will be on its home court, and just last year, the Knights eked out a three-point win in overtime over Cahokia in the semifinals of the Columbia Regional.