Derek Demaree was the star of Friday night's highly-anticipated SCAA championship game between Bell City and Dexter.
The 6-foot-5 center had a career night for the Bearcats, scoring 37 points, blocking six shots and pulling down 16 rebounds in a 77-68 win.
"I got in his face before the game, and two or three times during the game," said Dexter head coach Eric Sitze. "When the kid is mad, he plays well. That's one of the best individual efforts I've seen out of one of our players in a long time."
Demaree was a man among boys in the post, hitting 13 field goals. At the free throw line, he made 11-of-13.
"I knew we were bigger than them, but I didn't expect that kind of domination," said Sitze. "Somebody said (Bell City) knew we were going to close out on them on the 3-point shot. People said we had better have a shot blocker in there because they were going to penetrate. Well we had one tonight. He really cleared them out."
Demaree and his teammates extended Dexter's win streak on the Bloomfield court to 37 with the victory, while claiming their fifth consecutive conference tournament championship. The Bearcats won the game on the boards, out-rebounding the smaller Cubs 43 to 27 as a team.
"Derek Demaree played a great game," said Bell City head coach David Heeb. "We just didn't have anybody that could match him. We got out-manned in the paint tonight."
A big reason for Demaree's success was the play of Hyten at the point. The 5-foot-8 senior provided his center with numerous assists, many for easy baskets.
Hyten provided his share of points also, canning four treys and scoring 18 in the win.
"It seems like every year, I get sicker and sicker before this game," said Sitze. "Everybody (here) wants us to keep winning it. The kids don't feel the pressure, but I sure do. We knew coming in tonight we had to do three things well: rebound, not turn the ball over and play good defense. I thought we did all three really well."
The Bloomfield gymnasium was filled to capacity, providing a playoff-like atmosphere.
Dexter was in control the entire way, leading 34-27 at halftime and 52-39 heading into the final period.
Bell City fought diligently to the end though, fouling to the final buzzer. The Cubs missed several 3-pointers in the game, but caught fire late in the fourth quarter, hitting four treys in the final three minutes.
But in traditional Dexter fashion, the Bearcats thwarted any chance of a comeback by hitting their free throws down the stretch.
It was Bell City's third loss of the year.
"It was too little, too late," said Heeb. "That's going to happen. You're not going to make 15 threes every night. When it doesn't fall, we've got to find a Plan B. That's what we were so good at last year, and we're getting better at it. Hopefully by March it will come around."
Behind Demaree and Hyten, Preston Clark scored 10 points for Dexter. For the Cubs, Johnson led the way with 20 points, followed by Zak McIntyre with 12, Kenyon Wright with 11 and Henry with 10.
Dexter (14-3) will travel to Richland on Tuesday while Bell City (16-3) travels to Scott City.
The Cubs will get another shot at Dexter on Feb. 11.
"They've got to come to our place this year," said Heeb. "Anything can happen. They out-rebounded us tonight. If we fix that, I think we're capable of beating them."
In the third place game, Advance cruised past Bloomfield, 67-41. Jared Ritter scored a game-high 27 points and Zach Hudson contributed 12.
For Bloomfield, Tim Perry led the way with 17.
Players named to the 2003 SCAA All-Tournament team were Bell City's Dominitrix Johnson, Advance's Jared Ritter, Bloomfield's Colby Sandage, Dexter's Preston Clark, Bernie's Chad Wooldridge, Bell City's Eric Henry, Bloomfield's Tim Perry, Dexter's Chris Hyten, Woodland's Alex VanGennip, Advance's Jason Bahr, Bell City's Kenyon Wright and Dexter's Derek Demaree.
In the junior varsity tournament, Dexter beat Advance in the championship game 52-42 and Woodland beat Bell City for third place, 44-30.