Last season, the Gibault basketball team won its first regional since 1999, and advanced all the way to the sectional title game. There, the Hawks fell in heartbreaking fashion to eventual state runner-up Madison.
On Friday, coach Dennis Rueter’s team made a return trip to the sectional final, determined to finish the job.
With a dominating 59-45 victory over Springfield Lutheran on Okawville, Gibault did just that, winning the school’s first sectional title since 1999 and advancing to Tuesday’s supersectional.
The Hawks established their dominance early on. Lutheran tried to utilize their size advantage, but were completely shut down by Gibault’s stifling defense. Tyler Enright and Nick Row got things started on the offensive side by hitting threes on back-to-back possessions to make it 6-0. A minute later, a steal by Jared Rueter resulted in a Mitch Meyer jumper on the other end, forcing Lutheran to call a timeout and bringing the enthusiastic Gibault crowd to its feet.
The Hawks continued their hot start as Jared Rueter hit a triple and Row forced his way to the basket for a few layups. Gibault took a 17-8 lead into the second quarter.
The Hawks continued to dominate on both ends of the floor, starting the second quarter on a 14-1 run behind hot shooting from Row and Meyer. Gibault led 33-14 at halftime.
Lutheran came out aggressive in the second half, and the teams traded buckets early on. When Wes Degener went to the bench after being called for his fourth foul just two minutes into the half, the Crusaders took advantage and made their run.
A few quick drives to the basket and a three-point play helped Lutheran cut the deficit to 10, but the Hawks kept their cool and Row turned the momentum back on his team’s side by draining a clutch three-pointer as the third quarter buzzer sounded. Gibault led 47-32 heading into the final frame.
“That’s vintage Nick Row,” Coach Rueter said of his senior superstar, who finished with 19 points. “That’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from him.”
Rueter also acknowledged the poise of his team as a whole to remain calm during Lutheran’s run.
“We let them get a few easy baskets but we didn’t panic too much,” he said. “We kept playing and didn’t let them get too close.”
The Hawks made sure to reestablish their control over the game in the fourth quarter. Jacob Rueter swished a three to extend the lead to 18, and from there Gibault slowed things down and worked the clock.
Lutheran went on a mini-run in the final minutes, but the Hawks erased any doubts at the free throw line. After the final buzzer sounded, the players celebrated their achievement with family and friends.
Even Coach Rueter took the time to appreciate the accomplishment — this was Rueter’s first sectional championship since the 1998-99 season, when his team finished second at state.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment to make it this far,” he said.
Gibault faced off against Mendon Unity in Jacksonville on Tuesday evening for a chance to go to the state tournament. The Hawks were defeated, 67-49, ending their season.