COLUMBIA -- Bell City will be looking to end its outstanding season on a high note this weekend at the Class 1A Final Four in Columbia.
The Cubs (27-5) will face Stewartsville (27-3) at 12:25 p.m. in the first round on Friday at the Hearnes Center.
It's just the second time in history Bell City has qualified for the state tournament.
"We've already accomplished more than anybody ever thought we could," said Bell City head coach David Heeb. "There is no pressure from the outside looking in, but the kids want to come back with first place. I don't think they will be truly satisfied with anything less than that. They want to go out on top."
Stewartsville comes out of DeKalb County, located 20 miles east of St. Joseph. The Cardinals will literally be a big challenge for Bell City, offering up three starters over 6-4.
"We definitely have a lot of size, and we try to take advantage of it," said Stewartsville head coach Brian Whitmer. "We go out with the philosophy of controlling the boards and pounding the ball inside. It has been a great year for us -- the best we've ever had."
Chris Motsinger (6-5, 220) is the most dominant player on Stewartsville's team, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a night. He hits nearly 70 percent of his shots from the floor and 68 percent from the foul line.
"I don't think we've got anybody that is going to stop him," said Heeb. "I told my kids not to get their feelings hurt if he scores a lot on them. We're just going to try to do the best job we can and make him hit tough shots. Hopefully we can do a good enough job on the other four kids to where Motsinger has to score about 60 for them to beat us."
Forward Jesse Saunders (6-6, 165) averages eight points and five rebounds a game, while Travis Hunt (6-5, 150) contributes seven points with five boards.
Stewartsville's starting guards are T.C. Noel (5-8, 11.5 ppg) and Jason Bishop (6-0, 7.9 ppg).
"We've played against big people before," said Heeb. "The real key when you're playing a team from that part of the state is how good their guards are. I know from watching Scott Central win the state tournament year after year that a team with real good pressure that gets after your guards can beat you. That will have to be what works for us, because we can't match up with their size. Hopefully our quickness will bother them."
Most of Bell City's quickness comes from the trio of guards Eric Henry (6-1, jr.), Dominitrix Johnson (5-9, soph.) and center C.J. Hadley (6-4, sr.).
Henry is the most highly-touted of the three, averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists a game. Johnson runs the point, providing 15 a night with a team-high 168 assists this season.
Hadley is Bell City's top defender and rebounder, with 11.7 boards and 16 points on average.
"They're really quick, they're athletic and they've got some kids that can shoot the ball well," said Whitmer. "It will be real interesting to see how they handle what we do, and how we handle what they do. We're looking forward to it."
Kenyon Wright (6-0, jr.), Luke Phillips (6-1, sr.) and Jason Rampley (6-0, sr.) are role players for the team.
"I think whoever can play closer to their typical style is going to win," said Heeb. "If we let them pound the ball inside and play at their pace, they're probably going to beat us. But if we can play the game at our faster tempo, we'll be okay. I'm not concerned about their size so much. I think we can rebound with them and I think our quickness will give them a lot of problems. I'm more worried about us forcing the amount of turnovers it's going to take for us to win the game."
Bell City reached the Final Four by defeated Crocker in the quarterfinal round, 83-76. Stewartsville beat Grundy County on Saturday, 61-54, to make it.
"People don't play basketball in other parts of the state like they do in Southeast Missouri," said Heeb. "We're proud of where we are from and we're proud to represent our district. We play a little faster paced of game down here, and the pressure defense is a little different. I think we can really shock (Stewartsville) with our speed and the pressure we can put on them. If we can do that, we can force the tempo we want."
In Friday's other semifinal game, Santa Fe (23-5) will take on Community (24-4) at 2 p.m.
Santa Fe upset Marion C. Early in the quarterfinals 73-66. The Chiefs are led by 6-foot-4 center Joe Michael (22.1 ppg, 12 rpg) and 6-foot guard Austin Rolf (17.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg).
Community, out of Laddonia, defeated Tina-Avalon in the quarterfinal round, 76-46. The Trojans offer up a balanced attack, with all five starters averaging double figures.
Forward Scott Schutte (6-1, sr.) leads the pack with 13 points a game, followed by Bryan Stuckenschneider (5-9, sr.) with 12.8, Daniel Hodges (6-2, sr.) with 12, Matt Cope (6-2, sr.) with 11.6 and Dustin Zumbehl (6-5, jr.) with 10.
The 1A third place game will be played on Saturday at 10:50 a.m., followed by the championship at 2 p.m.
"We're probably the only team up there that people expected to make it," said Heeb. "Marion C. Early, New Haven and Jefferson all got beat. All of these teams have been surprise teams, beating somebody they weren't supposed to. I would say we are probably the favorite, but if I had to pick somebody else, I would say Stewartsville. With all their size, they are probably the toughest matchup of the four teams up there."