If the Althoff Crusaders have their way, the Class 3A Mascoutah Regional will serve only as a precursor of better things to come.
The Crusaders (23-3) are seeded No. 1 in the tournament and are staring at a possible engagement with longtime South Seven Conference rival Cahokia (10-14), seeded No. 2, in the championship game Friday.
For months, Althoff has looked like a state-championship contender, and now it is eager to show it has what it takes.
“I know they talk about it. Even as coaches, we talk about it,” Crusaders coach Greg Leib said. “We try not to dwell on it. But it’s human nature to think that way. You’ve got to dream. You’ve got to have dreams and you’ve got to have goals to reach those dreams. It’s fun to chase that.
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“It’s been a fun group to work with. Hopefully, (the postseason) isn’t short-lived.”
Althoff opens the regional at 6 p.m. Wednesday against fourth-seeded Mascoutah or fifth-seeded Waterloo. Mascoutah (10-19), which won four of its last five games after losing eight straight, will meet Waterloo (13-15) in the first round at 6 p.m. Monday. The Bulldogs have won four in a row after a five-game losing skid.
“We’ve seen film on Waterloo. They’re playing well right now,” Leib said. “They just handled Civic Memorial (55-37 on Friday). Mascoutah has played some teams really tough. So it’s going to be one of those deals where you just go in and work hard and see what happens with it.”
Cahokia has eliminated Althoff in the regional championship the last four years. Last year, the Comanches defeated Althoff 59-57 at Althoff. In 2013, Cahokia ousted the Crusaders 77-63 in Waterloo, and in 2012, Cahokia won 62-44 at Althoff. In 2011, the Comanches won 49-47 in Mascoutah.
“Us and Cahokia, how many times have we played each other in the playoffs?” Leib said. “About 15, probably. It’s probably not that (many), but it’s been a lot.”
Althoff has defeated Cahokia twice this season, 78-61 on Dec. 19 in Belleville and 69-56 on Feb. 13 in Cahokia.
The Comanches, like Althoff, must win a game to advance to the championship. They will play No. 3 Columbia (17-10) or No. 6 Freeburg (12-16), who meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday for the right to play Cahokia at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Columbia has won three of its last four, and Freeburg closed its regular season with a 63-60 win Friday over visiting Marquette.
Althoff’s only losses this season have come against Collinsville in the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic, Centralia and Westchester St. Joseph in the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.
The Crusaders ride the offensive firepower provided by sophomore Jordan Goodwin and juniors Brendon Gooch and Tarkus Ferguson, all of whom can take over a game. Goodwin averages 20.2 points, while Gooch and Ferguson each average 13.7 points.
Goodwin, a two-year starter, scored a career-high 35 points against McCluer on Jan. 23, and tends to elevate his game against top opponents.
“He just competes,” Leib said of Goodwin. “All the other guys are in the same mode.”
Althoff also relies heavily on players like senior Rick Edwards and sophomores Marvin Bateman, C.J. Coldon and Edwyn Brown. Bateman comes off the bench and is leading the Crusaders in 3-pointers with 52. Another player, junior Keenen Young, has rounded into form after missing the bulk of the season with an ankle injury.
“Bateman could probably be traveling to the playgrounds and hustling people in a shooting contest,” Leib said. “He can really shoot. Keenen is getting healthy, and a kid like C.J. Coldon is such a fierce competitor. He does whatever it takes: get a rebound, make an open shot, make a move. Edwyn Brown has had some key steals and made some big buckets.
“Rick helps create space a lot of times for these guys by setting great screens (and) maybe getting that (key) rebound. He’s such a tremendous hustler. They all, for the most part, have a blue-collar approach. Rick really brings that every day.”
Coaches are aware of the euphoria that comes with postseason accomplishments. Bitter disappointment, however, is always around the next corner. That particularly is the case with a team that has had a dominant season like the one enjoyed by the Crusaders.
“We’re just going to come out and try to do the best we can, work hard and keep sharing the basketball. We’ll see what happens with it,” Leib said. “We may make a run. We could face somebody that’s really hot on a given night and we’re not so hot.
“It’s been a fun year and we’ve won a lot of games. You’ve just got to come out and make plays and really give a good effort in this playoff situation. There’s no wrestlebacks, there’s no do-overs, there’s no consolation bracket. It’s either win or get the uniform tub wiped out.”
Class 3A Jerseyville Regional: Marquette (14-11) is the No. 1 seed and will meet No. 4 Jerseyville or No. 5 Triad at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Jerseyville (15-14) will play Triad (7-20) at 7 p.m. Monday.
The other game Wednesday, with a 7:30 p.m. tipoff, will pit No. 2 Highland (11-14) against No. 3 Civic Memorial (17-11). Highland defeated the Eagles twice in the regular season.
The championship game is at 7 p.m. Friday.