After a painful 63-60 upset loss to Clarkton in last year's Class 1 Sectional, Bell City got a chance to redeem itself on Tuesday at the Sikeston Field House.
With a 59-54 victory against Scott County Central, the Cubs stay alive in their quest for their second state championship in three years.
Bell City advances to the Class 1 quarterfinals at the West Plains Civic Center where they will play defending state champion Verona (22-7) at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday.
But even in the win, Heeb had mixed emotions about defeating his alma mater, which featured former head coach Ronnie Cookson sitting on the bench as an assistant.
"It's a bittersweet win because I love those kids on the other side so much," said Heeb. "I've coached all of them since they were little kids. It's hard to put Chris Pullen out when you like him so much. (Scott Central coach) Melvin Porter was the first guy to call me and offer condolences last year when we lost. It's like having to go fight one of your family members. There's just no nice way to do it."
The Cubs got 23 points and five rebounds out of star guard Dominitrix Johnson. Sophomore Jeff Liggins added 12 points. Senior Randy Conn added nine points and seven rebounds.
The loss ends Scott Central's turnaround season in which they clinched their first district championship since 1995.
The team won 11 out of their last 14 games heading into Tuesday's contest and finished 16-13.
"I've got some young kids and this was a good experience for them and they learned a lot from tonight," said Porter. "That's what it's all about. We're just beginning, but I'm confident that as the years go on we're going to get better."
The Braves came out running on all cylinders in front of a jam-packed crowd that appeared to be slightly in favor of Scott Central, who were decked out in their traditional orange and black colors that have been missing for so long in the playoffs.
The Braves led 13-9 after one quarter.
But things quickly unraveled in the second quarter as Bell City started the period on a 18-0 run to take a 27-13 lead.
Scott Central finally scored its first basket of the second quarter on an Andrew Pullen shot with less than two minutes remaining.
"It was just a lack of focus," said Porter. "That's been the word I've used so much this year with this bunch of kids. Tonight against any good team, you've got to be focused. Every play counts."
Bell City (26-4) led by as much as 14 twice in the second quarter but the Braves put together a 6-0 run in the final minute to cut the lead to 29-23 by halftime.
The Cubs maintained their lead, but the Braves were able to close the gap to 38-37 on two Chris Pullen free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Bell City led 46-39 when the Braves had a five-point swing in which Pullen scored an inside bucket while the Cubs had an away-from-the-ball foul.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Jeremy Johnson canned a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 46-44 with 3:48 remaining.
The Braves cut it to two points again with 2:50 left in the game but they wouldn't get any closer as the Cubs steadily pulled away in the closing minutes.
"I thought our kids were awfully tough in the fourth quarter," said Heeb. "That's the mark of a great team. When things get hard, you get tougher instead of fold up."
Bell City took a 59-50 lead with 17 seconds left. Scott Central scored two baskets in the final four seconds to reach the final margin.
Scott Central was led by Chris Pullen's 20 points and nine rebounds. Adrew Pullen added 14 points and Johnson had 10 points.
Bell City's postgame celebration was somewhat reserved.
"That's the Ronnie Cookson influence," said Heeb. "He told us, 'act like you've been here before.' I certainly don't believe in celebrating because we don't think we're finished. But we darn sure weren't going to celebrate in front of Ronnie Cookson."
Porter reflected after the game about Cookson's influence since joining the team in February.
"There was a time there where I felt we were at a low," said Porter.
"We couldn't win any big games and Ronnie came in one day. I told him, 'Cookson, I could sure use some help.' And he did. I hope he'll come in and help me some next year. I just appreciate his help. He has so much knowledge about the game. Anybody that would ever turn that knowledge down is crazy."