For the last six years, Dexter claimed the championship by an average score of nearly 20 points.
But this year's championship, the Bearcats' record seventh in a row, came down to the final shot as they held off second-seeded Portageville 56-55 on Thursday.
"It's still alive," said Dexter coach Eric Sitze of the streak. "That one was fun. This tournament's been a challenge for us -- every game."
Portageville had two final shots to win the game. After Chris Guethle missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 6.5 seconds left, Bulldog Jimmy Larry prematurely fired up a shot from just across halfcourt that airballed.
"It was too early," said Portageville coach Jim Bidewell of Larry's shot. "But it worked out good because we got the rebound and got a bank shot. You can't ask for a better shot than that to win it. We got what we wanted but it didn't go in."
For Portageville (8-1), it was the sixth time the Bulldogs have lost in the championship game since last winning the tournament in 1992.
Portageville controlled most of the game, leading through much of the second and third quarters.
"It was ours to win," said Bidewell. "Dexter's a good ballclub but we froze and started relying too much on Willie Hassell. They were in better shape than we were. We just quit fighting as a team. This will be a good learning lesson for us I hope. We've got a lot of work to do."
The Bulldogs fell behind 16-15 after one quarter and trailed by as much as 20-15 in the second quarter before taking control of the game.
The Bulldogs managed to take the lead on a Hassell 3-pointer with 3:51 left in the second quarter to propel the team to a 30-24 halftime advantage.
Portageville led by as much as eight points on two different occasions in the third quarter but the Bearcats, despite numerous careless turnovers, hung around with solid defense on the other end.
An Eric Rinehart steal and layup just before the buzzer to end the third quarter cut the lead to 43-39 and gave the Bearcats some much-needed momentum heading into the final frame.
Dexter (8-2) didn't waste any time making its move in the fourth quarter as they tied the score at 45-45 on a Derek Roberts drive to the basket with 6:18 left.
The two teams exchanged baskets for the next few possessions until Dexter took its first lead since the middle of the second quarter on a short shot by Guethle with four minutes remaining, to take a 51-49 edge.
Dexter would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
A Roberts basket pushed the lead to 53-49 but Hassell buried a 3-pointer with 3:31 left to cut it back to one.
After a Rinehart free throw gave the Bearcats a 54-52 lead, Dexter came up with a steal and ran the clock to under a minute left.
Scrambling to cause a turnover, Portageville left Levi Rawson all alone under the basket as Scott Admire found him for the open layup with 28 seconds left to give the Bearcats a 56-52 lead.
Hassell's 3-point attempt was just off the mark as Guethle came down with the defensive rebound and was fouled with 18 seconds left.
After missing the front end of the one-and-one, Portageville rebounded and got the ball to Larry, who hit a 3-pointer with 9.1 seconds remaining, cutting the lead to 56-55.
Guethle, usually a strong free throw shooter, ended up missing another one-and-one with 6.5 seconds left to set up the final sequence.
"You run the play to get it to Chris -- he had just missed one and I didn't think he could miss two in a row," said Sitze. "It's in his head. He's just got to step up there and shoot it and not worry about it. That'll come hopefully before the season's over."
Portageville wilted under the Dexter pressure in the fourth quarter, which was a sign of fatigue according to Bidewell.
"They upped the tempo and upped the pressure on defense," said Bidewell. "I think we just got tired. Everybody was looking for Willie. We've got guys that have some talent that can play and they've got to step up. We just didn't play smart.
"I didn't see any killer instinct in their eyes and that was kind of frustrating me because you either have that or you don't. We got scared and thought they would catch up and win. And that's what they did."
Hassell scored a game-high 18 points but only had three in the fourth quarter.
"Willie's a great player," said Sitze. "He's going to step up when the game's on the line and he did again tonight. They're a great program and they'll bounce back from this."
Dexter was led by Guethle and Rinehart's 12 points apiece, who both made the all-tournament team. Admire, who finished with eight points, also made the all-tournament team.
Hassell was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Jordan Penn, who fouled out with six points.
Sitze is the first coach in Bloomfield history to win four straight championships. Paul Hale led the Bearcats to the first three titles from 1998-2000.
Sitze also tied Hale and former Malden coach Randy Scott for the most championships won with four.
Even though Sitze felt his team didn't play its best game, his Bearcats are the champs for at least one more year.
"The kids hung in there, didn't quit, stayed after them and got a little lucky on the end down there," said Sitze.
"Everything's big in that kind of game. Even one less turnover is big in a game like that. Even the last shot almost went in. Every little thing counts. We'll take it."