BREESE • After a convincing 62-50 victory over Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the final game of pool play Friday at the 52nd Mater Dei Christmas Tournament, Breese Central finds itself in a familiar position -- playing for the tournament title.
The Cougars are the defending champion and have now made it to the championship game four consecutive years. The team also won the title in 2009 and has won five championships overall, the first in 2003.
“We like that feeling when people don’t think we can get there (the title game), senior forward Austin Rickhoff said. “But we have the same goal every year, get to the championship and win it.”
Rickhoff did his part scoring a game-high 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Junior guard Jacob Timmermann had 13 points and six assists, while Luke Jackson contributed 12 points and nine rebounds and Luis Perez added 11 points.
Breese Central (10-4) looked like it was going to waltz into the title game, taking a 16-7 lead after the first quarter and expanding it to 31-11 at halftime. The lead got as big as 21 points, before Sacred Heart-Griffin began to battle back.
“We expected that (a Sacred Heart-Griffin comeback),” Rickhoff said. “They are a great team. We knew they would make a run.”
The Cyclones (8-3) got as close as six points (53-47) when Kevin Zanger hit the second of consecutive 3-pointers, but the Cougars on a couple of free throws from Timmermann, one from Justin Becker, one from Rickhoff and a put back by Rickhoff built the lead back to double digits at 59-47.
“In the first half we played about well as we have played all year,” Coach Stan Eagleson said. “They turned up the pressure on us in the second half and made us work, but we were able to hold them off.”
The Cougars had a tremendous shooting effort, making 72.2-percent of its 2-point field goal attempts (13-18), including Rickhoff making five of six. The team also shot 50-percent from 3-point range (8 of 16).
A slight area of concern was its free throw shooting with team making 12-20 (60-percent). The team was slightly worse in the fourth quarter, making seven-of-14.
Breese Central will play Briarcrest, a private school in Memphis, in the championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday.
In another pool play game...
MATER DEI 45, CHICAGO JULIAN 24 • Senior guards Adam Etter and Bryton Timmermann scored 12 points apiece as the host Knights downed the Jaguars.
Junior guard Jared Thole added eight points and a game-high six rebounds for Mater Dei.
The victory improved the Knights (7-7) to 2-2 in pool play. Julian (2-7) finished 0-4 in pool play and will play in the ninth-place game Saturday at noon.