By Brent Huelsmann
The Nashville Hornets bounced back from a heartbreaking buzzer-beating loss to the Sacred Heart Griffin Cyclones to finish in second place in the 56th Annual Mater Dei Christmas Tournament. A balanced field, the Hornets came in as the top seed in Pool B, and the number two overall seed.
The Hornets got the tournament started off with a win, as they defeated Metro East Lutheran 60-47 in the very first game of the tournament at 9:30 am on Tuesday December 27.
A close game at halftime, the Hornets held just a two point lead over the Knights at the break. The Hornets were able to take over in the second half, as they outscored Metro East Lutheran 21-8 in the third quarter led by Hayden Heggemeier with 10 points in the third. Metro East Lutheran outscored the Hornets in the fourth, but Nashville made key free throws down the stretch to get the 60-47 win.
Nashville was led in the win by Brogan Kemp, who finished with 16 points. Overall four players were in double figures for Nashville as Ryan Brink finished with 12 points, and both Heggemeier and Brandon Schnitker each had 11 points apiece. Langdon Briles finished with six points in the win, while Bryce Bultman finished with four points for the Hornets.
The Hornets were not done on December 27, as they played their second game of the day against Sacred Heart Griffin at 4:00 p.m. A hard fought game, finished with an unbelievable ending as Sacred Heart Griffin's Jack O'Connor knocked down a deep three from the top of the key to give the Cyclones a 56-53 win over the Hornets.
The Hornets got off to a fast start, as they started the game on an 11-2 run. The Hornets would hold a 15-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Hornets would hold their largest lead of the game in the second quarter, after Bryce Bultman hit a three pointer to put Nashville up 22-11. The Cyclones would score the next 12 points of the ball game, helped out by a technical foul from Kemp to cut the Hornets lead to just one point. Sacred Heart Griffin could not take the lead though, as the Hornets held a 27-25 lead at halftime.
After halftime, the Cyclones would score the ten of the first 13 points to take a five point lead. At the end of the third, Sacred Heart Griffin had built a 39-31 lead. In the fourth, the Hornets came out, and chipped away at the Cyclones lead, cutting the lead to just two after free throws from Schnitker as time wound down. With just 7.4 seconds remaining in the game, Heggemeier hit a three from the corner, which looked like it would send the game into overtime. Senior Jack O'Connor had different plans though. As time expired, O'Connor hit a deep three from the top of the key to give Sacred Heart Griffin, a thrilling three point win.
Kemp led Nashville with 19 points in the loss, followed by Bultman with 15 points. Brink finished with eight points, while Heggemeier finished with seven points. Schnitker rounded out the scoring with four points for the Hornets.
The Hornets were back in action on December 28, as they defeated the Carlyle Indians 46-23. The Hornets defense gave Carlyle fits, as the Indians shot just 14.3% on two-point baskets. A hard fought physical game, 39 fouls were called in the game. 17 fouls were called on the Hornets, while 22 fouls were called on Carlyle.
A close game throughout the first, the Hornets held just a 9-5 lead after the first quarter of play. The Hornets built a lead in the second quarter, as they outscored Carlyle 11-5, behind five points from Brink. The Hornets would continue to pour it on in the second half, as they outscored Carlyle 13-6 in the third quarter and 13-7 in the fourth quarter to cruise to a 46-23 victory.
After the game, coach Brad Weathers talked about the game. “Very competitive game, very physical. You just had to grind it out. We had to find some different ways to score tonight and thankfully we did. We guarded well obviously, and at this point in the tournament, you just hope to survive. It was a tough ball game, and both teams had to work extremely hard.”
The Hornets were led by Brink, who finished with 19 points in the win. Bultman added 11 points, followed by Kemp with eight points. heggemeier scored four points, and Briles scored three points. Dale Anderson rounded out the scoring with one point in the win.
After Sacred Heart Griffin fell to Carlyle earlier in the day, the matchup between Nashville and Mater Dei would decide who Pool B would send to the championship game against Breese Central, who finished 4-0 in pool play.
In what would be the championship game of Pool B at the Mater Dei Tournament, the Hornets got off to a fast start over the Mater Dei Knights and won 59-40.
The Hornets rushed out to a 16-7 lead at the end of the first behind eight points from Brink and four points apiece from Bultman and Kemp. Mater Dei made a run in the second quarter, as they outscored the Hornets 12-9, but the Hornets still led 27-19 at the break.
The Hornets put the game away for good in the third quarter, as they outscored the Knights 10-5, and took a 35-24 lead into the final stanza. In the fourth, Mater Dei would only get as close as nine as the Hornets were able to pull away late to grab the victory and a spot in the championship game.
Coach Brade Weathers talked about the win over Mater Dei. “We knocked down some shots early and got a lead. That enabled us to play off that quite a bit for most of the night. I thought we guarded awfully well considering the size. I was really, really concerned with their overall size and their athleticism, and it obviously showed at times when they cut loose.”
Brink led Nashville with 17 points, follwed by Bultman with 12 and Kemp with 10 points. Heggemeier added eight points, while Schnitker added four points. Briles and Carson Parker rounded out the scoring with three points and one point respectively in the win.
The win over Mater Dei set up a rematch of the 2014 championship in which Nashville defeated Central. The Hornets were looking for their 10th tournament title, which would have broken a tie with Mater Dei for most all-time. The Championship game. marked the third straight year that the Cougars were in the championship. In the end, the Cougars were just too much for Nashville as Central captured their sixth tournament title with a 51-42 win over the Hornets.
A back and forth game throughout the first minutes of the game, the Cougars were able to grab a slight advantage at the end of the first as they held a 12-6 lead. In the second, the Hornets would repeatedly cut the Central lead to just two points but could not break through. After cutting the Cougars' lead to 16-14, Central went on a 7-2 run to lead 23-16 at halftime.
After falling behind 30-20 early in the third quarter, the Hornets scored 12 of the final 15 points of the quarter to cut the Central lead to 33-32 going into the final quarter of play. The Hornets would finally break through and take the lead, early in the fourth after a bucket by Kemp, but Central came back with a quick 9-0 run to take a 42-34 lead. Down the stretch, the Cougars would make 7 of their 10 free throws to put the game away and capture the tournament championship.
After the game, coach Weathers talked about playing Central. “If you have to come out from behind, and their guard play is so good. They can get to the rim, and get to the line so well. They had us in a bad spot there when they were ahead late and we were chasing.”
Weathers went on to say. “You congratulate Central on a really good defensive team, they did take away a lot of things from us and we struggled. The open looks that we did have, we didn't knock down until it was too late. We had to expend too much energy.
Central coach Jeremy Schubert, talked about the Cougar's defensive effort. ““Our defense has been good all tournament, kind of a model we live by. Defense first, offense second. To shut Brink down, I think he had just the two points there at the end. That was very important to us, not to give them wide open looks. In doing that we kind of traded some two point buckets. I've got to give my guys credit, we went through a couple stretches where Nashville's defense bothered us but Carter Troung hit some great, great big shots for us, and our seniors had a great tournament.”
The Hornets were led by Kemp who finished with 15 points in the loss. Heggemeier added eight points, followed by Bultman with seven points. Schnitker added six points, while Briles scored four points. The scoring was rounded out by Brink with two points in the contest.
Hornets Say Good Knight To Mater Dei,
Lose To Central In Championship