One of the teams was ranked in the state’s top 10. The other was riding a 10-game winning streak.
When cross-town rivals Gibault and Waterloo met last Tuesday night, there was more than a game on the line. This was the city championship — the most evenly matched city championship in years — a highly anticipated game between two of the best teams in Monroe County.
The packed house at Father Hustedde Gymnasium was treated to an instant classic, as the Hawks topped the Bulldogs in a 47-46 thriller.
Mitch Meyer led the way for Gibault, scoring 15 points; teammate Wes Degener added 12.
Waterloo received a big game from Shane Lenhardt, who scored 14 points Ryan Aycock and Daniel Gardner added 10 points each for the ‘Dogs.
The game was a battle from start to finish,. The teams were tied 10-10 after the first quarter.
Things started heating up in the second quarter. Aycock got the ‘Dogs rolling with two big three-pointers, but was quickly countered by Meyer, who nailed two threes of his own.
Meyer was also fouled while shooting a three. He missed the shot, but calmly sank all three free throws. Nevertheless, Waterloo led 26-22 at halftime.
The Bulldogs came out strong again in the second half, but the Hawks responded. Tyler Enright got hot from behind the arc. Gibault used a big third quarter run to take a 40-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
The game ultimately came down to the final possession.
After Degener scored to give the Hawks the 47-46 lead with just more than a minute to play, Waterloo had one last chance for the win. Both teams took the time to go over their end-of-game strategies, with four timeouts called in the final minute — including two in the final 10 seconds.Waterloo’s Rick Wiegand goes in for the layup against Gibault’s Nick Row.
Waterloo coach CJ Cruser was looking to get his team to the bucket.
“I wanted a layup for the last shot,” he said.
Gibault coach Dennis Rueter’s plan revolved around such a shot.
“We talked about not letting them get to the basket,” he said. “We wanted to force them to take a jump shot.”
Part of that plan included putting big man Brian Deterding into the game to protect the basket.
In the final play, Gardner inbounded the ball to Lenhardt, who quickly gave it back to Gardner, who drove to the basket, looking to score with a layup. But Gibault’s defense swarmed Gardner and Degener stripped the ball away.
Enright grabbed the loose ball as time expired, sealing victory for Gibault.
The loss was “tough to swallow” for Cruser, who, in retrospect, wishes he had gone with a different plan in the final possession.
“Looking back and seeing everything that didn’t work, I would have just settled for a jump shot,” he said. “They were not giving us any layup opportunity, so many of our looks were not going to work.”
The decision is one he’ll have to live with and learn from.
“Credit Gibault. They made us work for it and were content on getting beat from the perimeter. Gibault executed a bit better than we did late in the game,” he said. “Losing close ones always linger on the coaching staff, questioning our every move.”
Rueter credited the fine overall play of both teams.
“It’s always close when we play Waterloo, but that was one of the best games I’ve been involved in with them,” he said. “Both teams played a really good, complete game.”
Gibault’s momentum carried into Thursday, when they crushed Metro-East Lutheran, 67-43. Meyer was again the leading man for the Hawks, hitting five three-pointers and finishing with 19 points overall.
Degener was right behind with 17 points, while Nick Row added 11.
Two nights later, Gibault hosted Wesclin. The Hawks may not have been fully focused after the long week, as they fell 54-48 despite 20 points from Degener and 14 from Meyer.
“They got on a roll, and we didn’t make the right adjustments,” Rueter said after the loss.
Rueter thinks his team may have been suffering from mental fatigue after the long week.
“I think we were a bit unfocused,” he said. “We were too relaxed, and when you play the schedule we play, there’s no time to relax.”
The Hawks host Alton Marquette Wednesday before hosting Lovejoy for senior night on Friday.
Waterloo bounced back from the loss with an important conference win over Highland on Friday.
Lenhardt and Zach Schaab scored 18 and 17 points, respectively, in a 63-58 win.
With the victory, Waterloo improved to 15-7 overall, and more importantly, 6-1 in their conference.
The victory also broke “the curse” against Highland, according to Cruser. The Bulldogs had lost 14 of their last 15 matchups against their conference rival, with several of those losses coming in the final possession.
Cruser said his team showed toughness in pulling out the road win despite a sloppy fourth quarter.
“Somehow, the veteran group we have here found a way to break the losing streak and hang on for the big conference win,” he said. “The conference title is one step closer.”
One night later, the ‘Dogs faced an underrated test at Granite City (2-19). Granite City plays in one of the toughest conferences in the area, and had had the Bulldogs’ number in recent years.
Though the Warriors stuck with Waterloo until the end, the ‘Dogs were able to escape with a 42-40 victory behind 13 points from Lenhardt and 9 from Aycock.
Overall, Cruser thinks his squad had a successful week. After their 10-game win streak was snapped Feb. 8, his team has been under less pressure.
“Guys are playing tension free. They have a lot of confidence and they can play with anybody and it’s showing,” he said.
Waterloo hosts Mascoutah on Friday.
Other local action
The young Columbia Eagles are still experiencing growing pains. The Eagles suffered another loss last week, falling to Carlyle, 60-47, in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
The teams were tied at 11 after the first quarter, and Carlyle held a narrow two-point lead at half. The Indians slowly pulled away in the second half, but the game was competitive throughout.
Ryan Gudeman scored 15 points in the loss.
Eagles coach Mark Sandstrom was disappointed in the result, but has been encouraged by his team’s competitiveness this season.
“We just need to keep grinding and continuing to get better,” he said. “We have been in all but a couple of games this year.”
The Eagles hosted Wesclin on Tuesday night, and will visit Freeburg on Friday night.
Valmeyer played twice last weekend, winning one and losing one.
Friday, the Pirates downed Dupo, 46-37. Matt Hemenway scored 15 points and Ryan Unterseh added 10.
The following night, the Pirates hosted New Athens. Behind an incredible 30-point, 18-rebound performance from Tyler Meyer, the Yellow Jackets stomped Valmeyer, 68-42. Hemenway scored 9 points for Valmeyer (7-15), who visit Marissa Friday before hosting Wood River on Saturday for senior night.
The IHSA playoffs kick off next week for Class 1A and 2A teams. Gibault is the two-seed in the Lebanon Regional, which also includes third-seeded New Athens and sixth-seeded Valmeyer. Okawville, who defeated the Hawks earlier this season, is the top seed.
In other regional pairings, Dupo is the five-seed in the Mater Dei Regional, while Red Bud is seeded fifth in the Nashville Regional.
Full brackets can be found online at www.republictimes.net/sports.
The Class 3A and 4A brackets, which will determine the road to state for Waterloo and Columbia, will be announced soon.