For the Daily News
ST. ELMO —
Altamont's regular-season meeting against Ramsey wasn't pretty.
The Indians survived a scare on the road, pulling out a 34-28 victory against the Rams back in January.
Cowden-Herrick's last regular-season encounter with Brownstown didn't go well either, as the Bombers beat the Hornets by seven just days after the Hornets blew them out at the St. Elmo Holiday Tournament.
But it's the postseason now. And those two favored teams played like it on Tuesday, making ammends for those shaky regular-season performances with lopsided wins on the opening night of the Class 1A St. Elmo Regional.
Second-seeded Altamont started its quarterfinal game against Ramsey on a 13-0 run and never looked back, rolling to a 73-28 victory. Third-seeded Cowden-Herrick trailed by one, 28-27, at halftime against the Bombers, but dominated the final 16 minutes of play, pulling away to a 71-48 win.
The NTC rivals will meet at 7:30 p.m. today in the second semifinal. Top-seeded Nokomis and the fourth-seeded host Eagles (17-11) will battle at 6 p.m. in the first semifinal. Friday's title game is set to tip off at 7:30 p.m.
The Indians (20-7) reached the 20-win mark for the third time in six seasons, and the outcome Tuesday was never in question.
"We came out and took care of business," Altamont coach John Niebrugge said.
The Indians had as many points in the first half (40) as they did in the entire game in their first meeting with the Rams (3-18), but defense was the key to Altamont's vastly-improved showing this time around.
"We were fundamentally sound defensively," Niebrugge said. "We weren't gambling and letting them penetrate to the middle of the floor or letting them backdoor. And when we did backdoor, our weakside is there.
"I think the first time (against them), I think we thought we could take advantage of them a little bit defensively and we gambled too much. We kind of shored that up a little bit."
Jon Kuhns scored 10 of his 14 points during the Indians' game-opening 13-0 run, and he teamed up with post partner Ryan Mayhaus for 20 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 shooting from the line in the first half.
But, much like the team in general, the inside duo's defensive play was just as important as their offensive contributions. The duo finished with four steals and several deflections.
"When they play well defensively, we play well defensively," Niebrugge said.
Mayhaus finished with 11 points, while Justin McGinnis added 11 points off the bench.
Altamont's quick start allowed Niebrugge to play nine players in the first quarter alone, and 12 players wound up registering in the scoring column.
Garrett Ziegler finished with 10 points, but the junior point guard's floor time was limited.
"Garrett was sick Monday and didn't come to practice," Niebrugge said. "We needed to give him a little bit of rest."
That didn't slow down the Indians, however, which is a good sign considering it has relied on Ziegler to carry the load offensively many times this season.
"Even when he was in, the other boys were very aggressive, so I don't know if that practice (without Ziegler) helped them there," Niebrugge said. "É It was good to see we could do it without him all the time."
In the night's second quarterfinal, both the Hornets (16-10) and Bombers (10-16) struggled to find any rhythm in a first half that had five ties and five lead changes.
"In the first half, I think the jitters were there a little bit," Cowden-Herrick coach Bruce Manola said. "I think they were for both teams. There was a lot of early shooting and not running the offense early."
The Hornets managed to create a bit of separation at the start of the second half, however, going on a 13-2 run that suddenly had it up by 10, 40-30.
Cowden-Herrick couldn't build on that lead at the end of the third quarter, as Brownstown cut the deficit to just six, but an Ethan Schoonover 3-pointer and a Caleb Heiserman fast-break bucket off a Colton Burrus steal ignited a big fourth quarter by the Hornets, and Manola's team never looked back.
After struggling from the field all game, C-H hit 10 of 13 from the floor in the fourth, pulling away with a 31-14 advantage in the frame.
Schoonover led the charge in the second half with 13 of his 18 points, including three 3-pointers. Luke Moore had three three-point plays in the second half and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
"Luke was getting double teamed and triple teamed in the first half," Manola said. "But in the second half, he kinda showed why he's an all-conference player."
The trio of Jake Behrends (19 points, five rebounds, three steals), Matt Sefton (16 points) and Austin Hunter (13 points, 10 rebounds) did major damage for Brownstown, but the Bombers' lack of depth was evident in the program's final game, as just one other Brownstown player registered in the scoring column.
"Jake Behrends fought and clawed and, I thought, did a great job on Luke (Moore)," Bombers coach Vince Rohr said. "Matt and Austin have been a part of the program all four years. They stepped in (to varsity roles) as sophomores and we're definitely gonna miss them."
Brownstown begins a co-op with St. Elmo next year.
"The Bombers, for now, are done," Rohr said. "We're looking forward to a new chapter with St. Elmo, a much more competitive chapter. I think it's gonna be a good thing for the guys."
The Hornets managed to put Friday's lopsided regular-season closing loss to Dieterich in its rearview mirror.
"A lot of times that kind of lingers a little bit," Manola said. "But tonight they came through."
They now look forward to today's semifinal against Altamont. The Indians edged C-H 63-61 in overtime back in December.
"We missed four free throws, two in regulation, two in overtime," Manola said about that game. "It's gonna be a bang-bang game inside."
Altamont 73, Ramsey 28
Altamont 19 21 20 13 - 73
Ramsey 8 10 4 6 - 28
Altamont - Ziegler 10, A.Goeckner 1, McGinnis 11, Seidel 5, Borders 3, J.Kuhns 14, M. Kuhns 6, Mayhaus 11, Jahraus 6, Drone 2, Celestino 4.
Ramsey - Black 8, Pryor 3, Kelly 2, Hunt 6, Adermann 1, Lay 2, Hunt 6.
Cowden-Herrick 71, Brownstown 50
C-H 15 12 13 31 - 71
Brownstown 12 16 6 14 - 48
Cowden-Herrick - Schoonover 18, Moore 15, Heiserman 4, Morgason 10, Miller 4, Burrus 14, D.Barnes 2, Black 2.
Brownstown - Behrends 19, Sefton 16, Hunter 13, Frailey 2