(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
DELTA - It wasn't as dominating as last year's performance, but the Bell City Cubs basketball team will take it just the same.
In a thrilling, action-packed Class 1, District 2 championship game, the top-seeded Cubs clinched their second consecutive district title with a 76-71 overtime win against No. 2 Oran at a jam-packed Delta High School on Thursday.
Bell City, ranked No. 5 in Class 1, will square off with No. 3 ranked Clarkton in a highly anticipated sectional game at the Sikeston Field House on Tuesday night at 6:30.
The Cubs, who are the defending Class 1 state champions, won last year's district championship in convincing fashion over Oran, 73-49.
"I woke up out of bed this morning and I said, 'Lord, let us win by 25 again,'" said Bell City head coach David Heeb. "But I had a feeling it wasn't going to go that way."
In fact, it took some clutch free throw shooting and some unforced turnovers by Oran to seal the deal.
Bell City all-stater Dominitrix Johnson made 9-of-10 from the free throw line in the overtime period, including two with 8.5 seconds remaining to ice the victory.
"He's clutch, you can't say enough about him," said Heeb.
Prior to Johnson's two game-clinching free throws, Oran turned the ball over on an inbounds play when they were trailing just 73-71.
"We had two guys guarding the same person," said Heeb. "I didn't even see them throw it away but I'm glad they did because somebody down there was wide open."
Oran finishes its year at 22-7, ending a strong three-year run with a good senior class.
"This team's probably got a 90-something percent winning percentage since their seventh grade year," said Oran head coach Mitch Wood. "They went through junior high without losing. They're just a great bunch of kids."
It was the third time Oran had lost to Bell City this year, including the second overtime defeat. The Eagles won the first meeting against the Cubs back in December, 63-62.
But Thursday's game may be the best one yet.
Like last year, Bell City seemed on the verge of blowing the Eagles out as they went on a 23-4 run that spanned the first and second quarters.
The Cubs led 19-11 after one quarter and they extended the lead to 28-11 with less than three minutes remaining in the half.
But Oran finished the half strong, closing the gap to 31-22 by halftime.
"The kids didn't quit and that's all I asked when we went in the locker room," said Wood. "We just wanted a chance to win the ballgame and that's exactly what we did."
The Eagles continued the momentum in the third quarter by pounding the ball inside to seniors Nathan Seyer and Tyler Cookson.
The two combined to score 20 of the team's 27 points in the quarter.
"Our key the whole night was the post," said Wood. "They couldn't stop the post and they weren't going to. Our kids did a good job of just forcing the ball in there."
Senior Ryne Wood hit Oran's lone 3-pointer with 1:11 left in the third to tie the game at 47-47.
Bell City regained the lead but Oran junior Garrett Roslen hit a short jumper at the buzzer to tie the score at 49-49 heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter saw six lead changes and six ties.
Wood gave the Eagles a two-point lead on a backdoor layup with 1:17 left in the game but Johnson quickly tied it with a jumper 10 seconds later.
Oran appeared to be in control as they milked the clock, but they turned it over with 32 seconds left, and Joey Bickings fouled Ben Duncan in the process.
Duncan made both free throws to give the Cubs a 63-61 lead. The Eagles tied the score on a Cookson basket with 17 seconds left.
Johnson tried to win the game in regulation for the Cubs but his shot was off the mark, giving the Eagles the ball with 1.8 seconds left.
Wood got off a clean shot from halfcourt on the ensuing inbounds play but it was short, sending the game into overtime.
Oran led at three different times in the overtime, but foul problems started mounting as Cookson and Patrick Friga fouled out, leaving the Eagle post game vulnerable.
Heeb knew his team had a chance when the Eagles couldn't work the inside like they wanted.
"They're as good as any team in this area at doing that," said Heeb. "They're well-coached, Mitch does a good job of coaching the motion offense. Their post players pass so well. I was glad they fouled out."
Oran held its last lead with 1:30 left when Seyer scored. Bell City, which only had one field goal in the extra period, made 11-of-14 from the line to pull away.
The Eagles still had a chance when Roslen scored on an offensive putback with 13 seconds left to cut the lead to 72-71.
Oran then fouled Bell City's Eric Henry, who made 1-of-2 free throws to make it 73-71. But the Eagles turned the ball over on the inbounds play to wipe out any chance for dramatics.
"You cannot put your fate in the hand of the other team, the officials or anybody else," said Wood. "You've got to take care of the job yourself. And we did not take care of the job. But we played a hell of a ballgame. Our kids came back, worked their tails off. We asked the kids to do something tonight and they did exactly what we asked them to do."
Oran was led by Seyer's game-high 28 points. He also had nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.
Cookson followed up with 18 points while Wood contributed 11 points.
Oran's other two seniors, Friga and Bickings, scored four and zero points respectively. But Bickings was the Eagles' primary ball-handler throughout the night.
"I wish I could take two or three pages to talk about (the seniors)," said Wood. "They're a great bunch of kids and they're going to sorely be missed. These type of kids will do well in life. We've got one more sport to go and hopefully we can bring some pride to Oran and do something during the baseball season."
The Cubs got 21 points out of all-state senior Henry. Duncan had 14 points while Kenyon Wright scored all 10 of his points in the first half.
Bell City's record, 24-5, is identical to its mark at this same point last year.
After the game, Heeb was singing the Eagles' praises.
"We've won the state tournament," he said. "We've been all the way there and we've seen everybody. You find me a better team in 1A in Missouri than Oran other than Bell City. I just gotta see that to believe it."
Wood, whose Eagles have been knocking on the district championship door every year since winning one in 1999, thinks so too.
"If we're not one of the top six, seven, eight teams in the state, I'll be shocked," said Wood.
The Lady Bobcats repeated as district champions with a convincing win in the title game over Scott County Central.
Delta got 30 points out of senior Rebecca Below and they got 12 points from Sarah Jo Cook.
Katrina Flores added 10 points.
The Lady Bobcats led 20-10 after one quarter and 35-20 at the half.
They put the game out of reach in the third quarter, taking a 56-26 lead heading into the final frame.
Scott Central was led by Jennifer Hoots' 13 points.