The Gibault boys basketball team became quite familiar with the Pinckneyville Panthers this season.
The two schools played twice in the regular season, with each claiming a victory on the other team’s home court.
The Hawks and Panthers met for a third time Friday in Chester, this time with a Class 2A regional championship on the line. The Hawks made a valiant effort, keeping things close on a poor shooting night, but it wasn’t enough.
Behind hot shooting and stifling defense, Pinckneyville claimed the trophy and the rubber match, winning 53-39 and ending Gibault’s season.
The game was poised to be a thriller at the start, as the Hawks and Panthers traded buckets in the opening minutes. Pinckneyville established control at the end of the first quarter, playing hard defense and hitting back-to-back three-pointers to take an 11-5 lead after one.
Gibault stayed tough in the second frame, and cut the lead to three midway through the quarter. But Pinckneyville re-established control with another late run and timely shooting. A long three-pointer in the waning seconds gave the Panthers an eight-point halftime lead.
The third quarter was déjà vu for the Hawks. Coach Dennis Rueter’s squad battled hard to make it close, but couldn’t quite catch up with the clutch Pinckneyville squad.
Gibault used a nice run to cut the deficit to three with just over a minute remaining in the quarter, but the Panthers responded with some big shots of their own and continued their magic from beyond the arc. Pinckneyville nailed another late triple to end the quarter, and the Hawks were once again down by eight, heading into the final frame.
That final shot would prove to be a backbreaker for Gibault, as the Hawks never challenged in the fourth quarter. The Panthers took advantage of Gibault’s cold shooting, and pulled away for a 14-point victory.
Trevor Davis finished with 16 points and Jacob Rueter added 10, but the Hawks were simply doomed by an overall mediocre offensive performance.
“We definitely struggled with our shooting,” coach Rueter said. Give them (Pinckneyville) credit for their defense — they took away a lot of looks — but some of it was our own inability to move the ball.”
Rueter pointed to Pinckneyville’s clutch shooting as another game-deciding factor.
“They made a lot more shots than we anticipated,” Rueter said. “They were especially good from three. Every time we got back into it, they hit a big shot.”
Gibault advanced to the title game with a 73-43 annihilation of regional host Chester last Tuesday. The Hawks dominated from the start and cruised to an easy victory behind a balanced scoring attack, as four different players reached double digits.
Jacob Rueter led the way with 20 points, while Davis poured in 19, and seniors Zach Rueter and Brian Deterding chipped in 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Despite Friday’s season-ending defeat, Rueter had nothing but positive things to say about the way his team played this season. After losing five starters and a majority of scoring from last year’s supersectional team, the Hawks found a new identity around a group of inexperienced players and put together a solid and encouraging campaign, finishing the year at 20-10.
“We have to be pleased with the season as a whole,” said Rueter. “I think we exceeded expectations. We knew we had talent, but I think we played a lot better than people thought we would.”
The coach also expressed excitement for next year. The 2015-16 basketball season is nine months away, but Rueter is already raring to get started.
“We bring a lot of guys back next year,” he said. “We’ll be deeper and more experienced. I think we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Rockets down Valmeyer
In other local boys high school basketball action from Friday night, the Valmeyer Pirates lost in the Class 1A New Athens Regional championship game to Okawville, 60-33.
The Pirates trailed 20-4 after the first quarter and just couldn’t recover against a state-ranked Okawville squad. Vaughn Larsen scored eight points to lead Valmeyer, which shot just 27 percent from the floor for the entire game.
Valmeyer advanced to the regional final by edging rival New Athens last Wednesday night, 48-45. The Pirates were in complete control early, building a 12-point halftime lead. But New Athens surged late to make for a tense finish, as Valmeyer held on.
Zach Williams scored 16 points to lead the Pirates. Ryan Unterseh added 11 points and Hunter Brewer added 10.
Valmeyer returned home to play a regular season makeup game Monday night against Marissa, providing a fitting send-off for the team’s eight seniors.
The Pirates shot 62 percent from the floor in a 69-66 victory. Valmeyer led by 10 points after three quarters, and then fended off a late Marissa charge to earn the win.
Seniors Williams (18 points) and Unterseh (15 points) played well in their final games.
With the win, the Pirates finished the season at 16-14.
(with additional reporting from Corey Saathoff)