After being knocked out of the regional three straight years by rival Central, it was Mater Dei showing the Cougars the door Wednesday at the Class 2A Carlyle Regional.
Mater Dei got 18 points from Nolan Gerling and 15 more from Zach Haake to help offset a 27-point explosion by Central’s Logan Kohrmann as the Knights won the semifinal slugfest 52-40 to reach the regional championship.
Mater Dei (20-10) will face Nashville (26-3) in the title game at 7 p.m. Friday with the Hornets having won the first two meetings this season.
After jumping out to a 15-4 lead, the Knights had to hold on thanks to a Kohrmann-infused run that cut Mater Dei’s lead to just 20-18 at halftime.
“Scary. Scary,” was Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg’s description of the rapid turnaround. “We started off well, then they changed their defense (to a triangle-and-two zone) and it took us a while to adjust. Once we adjusted and found some baskets and got a little comfortable, we decided to maybe shorten the game a little bit instead of continue our pace.
“We struggled with (that defense) again, just like Friday night. We were very fortunate to get out of here.”
Each time Mater Dei would open up some breathing room, Kohrmann would bring the Cougars back. But each time he did, Haake was waiting to drop in one of his three well-timed 3-pointers that seemed to drain momentum away from the Cougars.
Mater Dei’s nine-point lead in the third quarter was cut to three twice, the final time early in the fourth quarter, as the Knights pulled away despite a 17-for-31 night at the free-throw line.
“That’s terrible,” Schadegg said. “Absolutely terrible.”
Between Gerling’s dominance inside and Haake’s shots, the Cougars couldn’t find a way to stop the Knights.
“He’s a senior,” Schadegg said of Haake, headed to Arkansas State on a baseball scholarship. “He’s got to do that this time of year. Everybody all season long has been a little aggravated or frustrated with him, saying ‘I wish he’d play harder or do more.’
“But you saw tonight he does what it takes to win games and he did enough tonight. He’s a senior, he made the plays when he needed to make them and that’s why we’re walking away from here winners.”
Central hung tight thanks to its defense, but it was a lack of offense that kept the Cougars from winning a seventh straight regional.
“We’ve got to have more guys step up,” Central coach Jeremy Shubert said. “Not that we needed everybody in double figures, we just needed more guys with eight rather than five or less. Mater Dei’s length bothered us, but I wanted more guys to attack the basket. We just didn’t get that tonight.”
Mater Dei threatened to blow things wide open early, getting seven points from Gerling on the way to an early 15-4 lead.
Kohrmann willed the Cougars back into it, scoring his team’s first 10 points and 13 in the first half. His big 3-pointer just before the half ended cut the Knights’ lead to 20-18.
Mater Dei was shredded by Kohrmann, who had 27 of his team’s 40 points. But no one else on Central had more than five as six other players combined for 13 points.
“You’re not going to stop him,” Schadegg said. “As long as he stays right around his average, 20-21, (and we) shut everybody else down, we felt we had a pretty good chance. He’s just too good a player to contain all night long.
“He’s really fun to watch but our defense did the job on the other guys and that was a big difference.”
Shubert also marveled at Kohrmann’s virtuoso performance.
“He did everything and off of every ball screen, they had two guys on him,” Shubert said. “He stepped back and hit (shots), he went to the rim, had good body control..it was just a fabulous effort.
“If we don’t have him we’re climbing a very, very uphill battle. I’ve got to credit all my kids, they hung in there.”