Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg began to sense a different attitude and atmosphere around his team in recent weeks, one he believes has made all the difference in the playoffs.
After capturing its first regional title since 2001 on Friday with a 60-40 dismantling of top-seeded Nashville, the Knights now will take aim at the Class 2A Wood River Sectional.
“They’ve been having a lot of fun the last third of the season and I think that’s carrying over,” said Schadegg, whose 21-10 squad will face Greenville (29-3) in a sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday. “They’re not concerned or putting too much pressure on themselves. They’re just out there doing what they love to do.”
Mater Dei entered the postseason with back-to-back losses to state-ranked Okawville and Centralia, but the 10th-ranked Knights responded with two of their better efforts this season to escape the Carlyle Regional and two other local teams ranked in the top 10.
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“Those last two losses of the season kind of refocused our kids,” Schadegg said. “What I see right now is they’ve got a lot of spirit and enthusiasm and excitement about playing in these games. The seniors understand that every time they lace up the shoes and put on that Mater Dei uniform, it could be the last time they ever wear it. It’s important to them.”
Nolan Gerling, a 6-foot-8 senior center, had 21 points against Nashville in the regional final and 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 52-40 semifinal win over rival Central. He seems to be a lot more active and aggressive inside than he was earlier this season, as he showed Friday night against Nashville’s 6-foot-7 star forward Royce Newman.
Gerling is averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds to go with 38 blocked shots.
Mater Dei’s offensive arsenal includes senior forward Ben Lampe (12.7 points per game), senior guard Zach Haake (10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, 40 3-pointers) and senior guard Zack Deiters (7.5 ppg, 63 3-pointers).
“Height and length is the big key for them,” Greenville coach Todd Cantrill said. “It’s not just the overall size, but everything they bring with it that’s a big challenge. The Gerling kid inside is a ton and then they’ve got two kids that can shoot it as good as anybody around and two good wing players as well.”
Greenville’s three losses came to Nashville, Central and Okawville. The Comets won the South Central Conference and knocked off Hillsboro 52-41 to win the Vandalia Regional.
“The big key to us this year is that we’ve had four and sometimes five guys on a given night that can score,” said Cantrill, whose team won its fourth regional title in the past seven seasons.
Senior Will Schaufelberger (12.5 ppg) is Greenville’s scorer, followed by 6-4 senior Jacob Hall and 6-4 junior David Holden (11 ppg apiece), senior Craig Faulkner (10.5) and 6-5 senior Tyler Hutchinson (6 ppg).
Roxana (16-15) will take on Pinckneyville (24-6) in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Roxana has won four in a row and is led by 6-2 junior guard Trace Gentry (16.2 points and five rebounds per game, 91 3-pointers) and sophomore Zach Golenor (10 ppg, 37 3-pointers).
Okawville (23-9) has won 11 in a row and will be playing on its home court. That’s no guarantee of a sectional title, but it doesn’t hurt, either.
Especially since the Rockets are benefiting from a tough schedule and have one of the top scorers in the St. Louis area in 6-3 sophomore guard Noah Frederking (22.1 points and seven rebounds per game, 54 3-pointers.
Okawville has been improving throughout the second half of the season and will take on Morrisonville (19-10) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the sectional semifinals. Metro-East Lutheran (18-9), which won the Hardin Calhoun Regional, takes on Carrollton (26-4)in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Okawville’s other top scorers are Shane Ganz (9.8 ppg, 31 3-pointers), Nick Strubhart (7.3 points, 4.1 rebounds per game) and point guard Alec Wisneski (6.8 points and 3.3 assists per game).
Morrisonville has three top scorers in senior guard Austin Deal (15 ppg, 53 3-pointers), senior Levi Williams (11.7 ppg) and sophomore Seth Foster (11.3 ppg).