(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
BLOOMFIELD - According to the seeds, the Dexter Bearcats may not be the Bloomfield Christmas Tournament favorite this year, but that hasn't stopped them.
Not even a leaky air-conditioning unit that dripped water on the floor for most of the game could stop the second-seeded Bearcats from posting a 78-70 win against No. 6 Doniphan on Saturday night in Bloomfield.
The Bearcats' win, the team's 33rd straight at Bloomfield High School, set up a finals matchup with top-seeded Twin Rivers, 64-57 winners over fourth-seeded Portageville.
The championship game is scheduled for 8:30 tonight. Dexter will be shooting for its fifth straight Bloomfield championship. Twin Rivers hasn't reached the finals since 1994.
(photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
Portageville will play Doniphan in the third place game at 7 p.m.
The finals matchup is a rematch from a game earlier this season in which Dexter defeated the Royals 50-49.
It's also a rematch of last year's memorable overtime game in which Dexter won 62-61, setting up the Bearcats' fourth straight Bloomfield title.
"It's going to be a battle," said Dexter head coach Eric Sitze. "(Twin Rivers) wants this really bad. I hope my kids can still be hungry for it. I think they will be."
In other tournament games, third-seeded Kennett beat No. 7 Bloomfield 71-48; No. 8 Hayti beat No. 5 East Carter County 58-54; No. 9 Malden beat No. 13 Puxico 55-40; and No. 11 Bernie beat No. 15 East Prairie 51-33.
Kennett will play Hayti for fifth place today at 5:30 while Malden and Bernie will meet for the consolation championship at 4 p.m.
The Bearcats led the entire game but they never could shake the Dons.
Leading 56-53 entering the final frame, Dexter scored the first five points of the quarter. Doniphan never got closer than four the rest of the way.
But the Dons kept it interesting until the final minute as Danny Kellas' 3-pointer with 49 seconds left made it 72-68.
The Bearcats (5-3) iced the game with six straight free throws.
Sitze knew that Doniphan, which entered the tournament 0-2, was a darkhorse team.
"I seeded them second in the tournament," said Sitze. "I've always been scared of Doniphan. They've got such good shooters, they play well together and they don't quit."
But it wasn't enough to overtake the Bearcats.
Just 19 seconds into the game, Preston Clark scored on back-to-back layups, forcing Doniphan head coach Shawn Gibbs to burn a timeout.
The Bearcats led by as much as 12 in the first quarter after 6-foot-5 Derek Demaree buried a 3-pointer with 2:40 left in the period.
The Dons (2-3) were able to whittle the lead down to 26-21 by the end of the first quarter.
Doniphan still appeared to be in good shape towards the end of the first half, but the Bearcats went on a 12-2 run in the final two minutes to open up a 48-34 halftime lead.
The run was sparked by four steals on four straight possessions by Dexter point guard Chris Hyten, three of which led to uncontested layups.
"All those steals that he had there at the end of the second, that was a big momentum builder for us," said Sitze. "He's a hustler, he gets after it. He gets out in the passing lanes real good."
Hyten finished with a team-high 18 points, including an unofficial nine steals for the game.
Dexter continued to control the game in the third quarter as they led by as much as 16 points.
But out of nowhere, the Dons put together a furious rally, finishing the quarter on a 13-0 run to cut the lead to 56-53.
That was as close as Doniphan would get.
"I didn't think we played well and I don't think the kids thought they played well tonight," said Sitze. "We're glad to be back in the finals. Sometimes this is the toughest game, just getting to the finals. I think we'll be a lot more relaxed Monday night."
Clark had 17 points and Demaree added 14 for the Bearcats.
Doniphan was led by Shayne Talburt's 20 points and Kellas' 15 points.
The Bearcats' quest for a fifth straight Bloomfield championship is unprecedented.
The only thing that even compares is Malden's run from 1983-1990 when the team made the finals 6-of-8 times, winning four.
"We try not to talk about it (the streak) because you don't want to put any more pressure on the kids than you need to," said Sitze. "I haven't even said anything about it, the kids haven't said anything about it, but we all know about it. We just try to keep it in the back of our mind and just try to compete."
The Royals trailed 33-31 at the half, but an increase in the defensive intensity in the third quarter wore the Bulldogs down.
Twin Rivers (8-1) out-scored Portageville 18-5 in the third quarter to lead 49-38.
The Bulldogs (5-3) never got closer than the final margin the rest of the way.
"That third quarter we just quit rebounding," said Portageville head coach Jim Bidewell. "I don't think we had one rebound the whole quarter. You're not going to win any ballgames like that."
Boasting a front line of 6-5, 6-5 and 6-4, Twin Rivers took full advantage of its inside presence. The three, Jason Baucom, Matt Stanford and Lucas McKinnis, combined for 29 points and numerous rebounds.
"I've got a really hard-working group," said Kruse. "Our inside guys aren't what you'd call superstars, they're just blue-collar hard-workers."
The three were enough to keep Portageville from getting many points inside. Most of the Bulldogs' points were from the perimeter.
But that strategy was working in the first half as the Bulldogs hit five 3-pointers.
"I was pleased with the way we shot, we haven't worked on shooting a lot," said Bidewell.
But the wheels came off in the third quarter as Royal freshman Michael Lance heated up, scoring nine of his 12 points.
"Our defense did it," said Kruse. "Michael Lance hit some shots, but everyone else did too. We got some post feeds, we got some second chances."
The Bulldogs resorted to fouling in the fourth quarter but the Royals responded, hitting 10-of-14 from the free throw line.
"I thought we defended well in the first half and we stayed on the boards with them," said Bidewell. "That's why it was close. We came out in the second half and we just went to sleep. That's all there is to it. Their kids stepped up and we just kind of bowed down. For three quarters I thought we played well. We just got a little out of sync on offense a couple times."
Portageville was led by Danny Scherer with 17 points. Willie Hassell added 15 points and Aaron Bidewell had 11.
Robby Moore led the Royals with 23 points.
Kruse saw marked improvement from the Bulldogs, the same team his Royals routed 55-31 earlier this month.
"They're so much better now than they were," said Kruse. "If we play them a third time, it will be that much harder to beat them a third time. (Bidewell is) great. I think he's as good a coach as there is in the area. I know I look up to him a ton."
The Indians led 32-22 at the half and extended the lead to 49-37 entering the fourth quarter.
A 22-11 run in the fourth quarter turned the game into a blowout.
Tyree Goolsby and Cody Robinson combined to score 49 points. Goolsby is averaging 29 points per game in the tournament.
Bloomfield was led by 6-foot-5 center Colby Sandage with 13 points.
The Green Wave dominated from the start, leading 20-7 after one quarter and 33-14 by halftime.
They increased the lead to 45-23 heading into the fourth quarter.
Malden was led by Colen Robinson's 17 points. James Farr added nine points. No Puxico player reached double figures as Jesse Townsend and Matt Fox each scored eight.
In a mild upset, Hayti eliminated the Redbirds to reach the fifth place game.
The two were tied 17-17 after one quarter. Hayti led 30-29 at the half and 43-41 entering the fourth quarter.
The Indians were led by Pete Peterson's 16 points and William Moore's 14. Dallas Winda added 12 points.
East Carter was led by Trevor Douglas with 18 points, Brandon Crook with 12 and Allen Wilder with 11.
The Mules opened up with an 18-2 first quarter and never looked back.
They led 29-12 at the half and 38-23 entering the fourth quarter.
Zach Dill led all scorers with 21 points. Chad Wooldridge added 13 points.
Jared Carden led the Eagles with 14 points.