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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Cubs, Braves ready for rematch

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Chris Pullen
SIKESTON - Tonight's Class 1 Sectional matchup between Bell City and Scott County Central brings about some mixed emotions for David Heeb.

Heeb, Bell City's head coach, graduated from Scott Central in 1996 and played on the team's last district championship in 1995.

And now his Cubs will be taking on his alma mater at the Sikeston Field House tonight at 8:15.

"Either way it goes, somebody's got a chance to win the state tournament that you're going to be able to root for," said Heeb. "You want your kids to win, but if we're not fortunate enough to do that, I'm certainly going to root for them all the way."

And sitting across from Heeb will be former Scott Central coaching legend Ronnie Cookson, who has assisted second-year head coach Melvin Porter since a Jan. 16 loss to Charleston, their sixth straight defeat at the time.

Dominitrix Johnson
The Braves were struggling, sitting at 5-9 and appeared to be going nowhere fast.

But in steps Cookson, who has helped Porter turn Scott Central's fortunes. Since the Charleston game, which was a hard-fought 73-66 loss for the Braves, Scott Central has gone 11-3. One of those losses was a 71-64 defeat at the hands of Bell City.

"From being around him it's been a learning experience," said Porter, who came into the job with no prior coaching experience at the high school level. "You know, just watching all the little intangible things that he does with kids that I don't think I was doing a good job of. It's just a blessing to have him around. He does a lot for us. And really, one of the big things is he reinforces what I'm telling the kids."

Cookson led the Braves to a Missouri record 13 state championships before retiring in 1994. Of those 13 championships, they won seven straight state titles from 1985-1991, tying the national record.

The Braves won their last district championship in 1995 under Todd Porter while Cookson continued to assist, but the program went through a lengthy dryspell until now.

Heeb said it will be tough coaching against across from Cookson.

"There's a lot of people out there through the years that would have liked to had seen him lose in the state tournament," said Heeb.

"As a former player of his I know we always took a lot of pride in the fact that we wanted to protect that reputation. You know, 'they're not going to get Coach Cookson on our watch.' We played with that frame of mind.

"But tomorrow night, I've got to line up across from him and try to beat him. We're certainly going to try to do that. Him being in the game certainly does add a little more fan appeal."

Playing in front of large crowds isn't anything new to the Cubs, who were stunned 63-60 in last year's sectional game at the Sikeston Field House.

With a seating capacity of only 2,400, nearly 3,000 fans packed into the Field House that night, forcing school administrators to open up seats on the stage.

"We play in front of a lot of big crowds and I think that's one place where our kids might have an advantage," said Heeb. "We've played in front of large crowds this year and have played well. But we certainly remember what happened last year."

Porter just hopes that his team, which plays in one of the smallest gyms in the area, isn't in awe of the playoff-type atmosphere and the mesmerizing size and grandeur of the Field House.

"I don't know how we'll react in that place," said Porter. "The important thing to remember is that it's just another gym."

Scott Central will also have the unenviable task of trying to stop Bell City senior guard Dominitrix Johnson, who averages 29.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and six assists per game.

As if they needed any incentive, the Braves (16-12) can also use the motivation that Johnson transferred to Bell City after starting for Scott Central as a freshman.

"You can't stop him, he's tough," said Porter. "He's got better footspeed. He's quick, he's smart. He does a lot of things right. With a player like that, I wouldn't try to stop him. I would just hope to do a better job of containing him."

Teammates with Johnson as a freshman, 6-foot-3 forward Chris Pullen is the go-to man for the Braves.

Pullen averages 21.6 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks and 3.5 assists per game.

"I think you've got to start with looking at Chris Pullen," said Heeb. "He's a great player and we've got to find a way to contain him. The system they play is a lot like the system we play. We don't think one guy is going to beat us." Pullen's brother Andrew averages 10 points and seven rebounds per game.

Guards Jeremy Johnson and Daniel Holman each average 10 points per game for the Braves.

Bell City's only other double figure scorer is sophomore Jeff Liggins at 10 points per game.

The Cubs (25-4), who are ranked second in the state in Class 1, have plenty of experience with several seniors on the team.

"This group of seniors, from a year ago tomorrow, have been looking forward to getting back into the state tournament," said Heeb.

"We're right where we want to be right now so hopefully we can take advantage of it. We'd like to believe we can win the whole thing. But if you don't come out with the frame of mind that the next one is all that matters, you could be going home tomorrow."