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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Next stop: Columbia

Monday, March 8, 2004

(Photo)
Dexter's Derek Demaree works against Lutheran South's Sky Hagy.
FARMINGTON - Prior to winning the school's first district tournament in 28 years, Dexter head coach Eric Sitze felt so much pressure to win that he was hesitant to answer questions about the event.

Just two weeks later, the City of Dexter might be looking into electing Sitze for mayor.

Sitze and his Dexter Bearcats advanced to the Class 4 Final Four for the first time ever with a 63-43 thrashing of Lutheran South in Saturday's quarterfinal matchup at the Farmington Civic Center.

After waiting so long just to make the playoffs, now the Bearcats are two games away from a state championship.

Their reward for Saturday's victory -- a date with USA Today nationally ranked Vashon on Friday at 12:25 p.m. at the Hearnes Center in Columbia.

Vashon, who many feel is the top team in the state regardless of class, is currently 29-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 4.

With the Dexter student section chanting "Sitze for President" late in Saturday's game, the third-year head coach has now led Dexter where no other Bearcat coach has traveled.

Not even his predecessor Paul Hale, who built the program into an area power, or the long-tenured Jim Hall, who produced numerous winning seasons that spanned three decades, could make it this far.

"That says a lot," said Sitze. "It's a great accomplishment. You could tell there was a big burden on (the players') shoulders. There were a lot of expectations out here with this big crowd that showed up."

The large contingent of Bearcat fans smelled victory before the game even started, partly due to Lutheran South's unsightly 16-13 record coming in. And also largely due to the fact that Dexter had already hurdled the state's No. 2 ranked team in DeSoto.

The Bearcats (23-6), ranked 8th in the state, entered the game as heavy favorites, and though the Lancers stayed with them for a half, Dexter's depth and quickness proved to be too much in the second half.

And as it has been the last several games, Dexter's zone press was the catalyst behind the victory.

Even Lutheran South head coach Brian Lind wasn't sure what his team could've done differently on Saturday.

"We probably could've borrowed a few of their players to help us out," joked Lind. "But really, it's no surprise. You can't practice that kind of speed and that kind of press. We don't see that type of press very often. They do it very, very well. That's a very good team out there."

Dexter forced 10 turnovers in the first quarter, mostly on the press, as they raced out to an 18-8 lead on Chris Guethle's buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

"Our press has been really big the last four or five weeks," said Sitze. "I really thought it wore them down through the course of the game, you know, affected their shots."

The Bearcats led by as much as 12 in the second quarter but cold shooting allowed the Lancers to creep back into the contest.

Lutheran South's Andy Cross scored consecutive baskets, including one just before the buzzer sounded, to close the gap to 27-22 by halftime.

"We shot the ball like we were a little bit tense tonight," said Sitze. "I thought we were playing hard, we were doing things defensively. We just couldn't get the ball to go in the hole."

But Dexter quickly erased any doubt that there would be an upset when Guethle buried a 3-pointer to start the third quarter.

The shot sparked a 7-0 run which gave the Bearcats a 34-22 lead. The Lancers (16-14) never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.

"I could tell they were tired in the first half," said Sitze. "I told them at halftime, 'fourth quarter's going to be ours. Relax, don't worry about it. We're going to wear them down in the fourth quarter.'"

Dexter led 42-30 heading into the fourth quarter.

And true to Sitze's words, they continued to push the lead even further in the fourth quarter before reaching its maximum height of 20 points when the final horn sounded.

Lutheran South turned the ball over 20 times. And the times when Lancers didn't turn the ball over, they had trouble getting shots to fall.

"We knew coming in that we would have to handle the ball and we knew we'd have to make some shots," said Lind. "We didn't do that tonight. They out-played us, they won. That's it. They have a lot of weapons. It looks like a bunch of guys that have been playing together for a while. They look like a team in every sense of it."

Dexter also out-rebounded the Lancers 30-22, including several on the offensive end.

"We've known that blocking out has been a weak point of ours," said Lind. "It's something that I thought we had taken care of, but it showed up again tonight. You can't give a good team that shoots the ball well second, third and fourth shots every time down the court. There's no way you can win a game that way."

Dexter got another big game out of Guethle, who finished with a game-high 17 points with seven rebounds.

Sitze said Guethle has been a different player since an injury sidelined Derek Demaree a few games in early February.

"When Derek got hurt, I think Chris really stepped it up," said Sitze. "His confidence level got higher. And ever since that game Chris has been a major factor for us."

Senior Josh Miller added 14 points, including 7-of-8 free throw shooting in the fourth quarter.

Demaree, who battled foul problems all night, finished with 11 points, but only had four entering the fourth quarter. He also had seven rebounds.

Six-foot-six senior James Ford came off the bench to get four points, five rebounds and two steals. Derek Roberts added eight points.

"All year long our bench has done well, just giving other kids some rest," said Sitze. "Our bench once again played a big role for us."

Lutheran South was led by Mike Uthoff's 13 points. Tom Neely added 10 points with seven rebounds.

Sky Hagy, the Lancers' leading scorer, was held to three points before fouling out.

Lutheran South, which started the season 7-11, caught fire at the right time, winning nine of 11 heading into Saturday. The Lancers' hot streak had Sitze concerned, but was it as nerve-wracking as the Bearcats' 45-42 squeaker against DeSoto.

"I was nervous the whole game until it read zero, zero, zero," he said.

After the game, a St. Louis area reporter commented to Sitze about the Bearcats' fan support.

"These guys follow us almost everywhere," said Sitze. "With the magnitude of this game, I knew there'd be a few extra ones show up tonight."