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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Defending state champions stay alive

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Members of the Bell City basketball team celebrate.
SIKESTON - Three times this year the Scott County Central Braves defeated the defending state champion Bell City Cubs.

But the one time it really mattered, they couldn't pull it off.

With a 67-58 victory, Bell City is still the king of Class 1 for at least one more round as they defeated the Braves in a sectional game at the Sikeston Field House on Tuesday night.

Bell City will play Eminence on Saturday in a Class 1 Quarterfinal game at the West Plains Civic Center at 2:45 p.m. Eminence (17-13) upset Winona (24-5) in another sectional game, 53-47.

It's the second year in a row Bell City has eliminated Scott Central from the playoffs.

Scott County Central's Ray Rodgers tries to score.
But this time the Cubs (20-9) had to rally from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to do it.

Once they grabbed the lead, Bell City exploded in the fourth, leading by as much as 67-52 with less than a minute remaining in the game.

The lead would hold up as Scott Central (20-9) hit a couple late 3-pointers to reach the final margin.

"I thought the pressure of being the favorite started to weigh on them the longer we were able to hold the lead," said Bell City coach David Heeb. "They've got a great group of kids and they had a great year, but for one night anybody can beat anybody. And we proved that tonight."

What makes Bell City's win even more amazing is the amount of youth they have on the floor.

With four freshmen that see extensive playing time, Heeb's team competed like they were playoff veterans.

"We've got so many injuries," said Heeb. "We've only got five older kids that get minutes and three of them are at less than 50 percent right now. So we've got to have production from them and tonight they stepped up big."

It was a tough loss to swallow for Scott Central, which many had pegged as the Class 1 team to beat in the area.

"The officiating was letting them play and they didn't adjust to the physical play -- that's what got us in trouble," said a distraught Melvin Porter, Scott Central's coach. "That's all there is to it. The kids thought they were getting fouled, but when the officials let you play, you've got to wake up and adjust to the situation. His kids adjusted well and we didn't."

Bell City's game-turning run in the third quarter seemed to zap the life out of the Braves.

After falling behind 34-24, Bell City went on a tear to close out the third quarter.

They still trailed 38-30 but back-to-back 3-pointers by Kerry Lasters and freshman Nick Niemczyk sliced the lead to 38-36 with 1:50 left in the period.

A Marty Dames basket tied the score and Lasters finished the run with a coast-to-coast layup just before the buzzer sounded at the end of the third to give the Cubs a 40-38 lead.

After Andrew Pullen tied the game with two free throws to start the fourth, Bell City's Jeff Liggins scored an inside basket and the Cubs never trailed again.

The Cubs' effective full-court press and pressure defense contributed to Scott Central's demise.

"We didn't know if we could press them or not," said Heeb. "The last time we played them we tried it a little bit and kept it in our back pocket in case we got down in this ballgame. We didn't want to press unless we had to."

The Cubs continually extended the lead through the fourth as they scored numerous transition buckets after getting steals.

They could've sealed the game even sooner if not for some poor free throw shooting down the stretch -- the Cubs were just 7-of-17 in the fourth quarter.

"One of these days these kids will relax and make them," said Heeb. "I was just proud of how many times we got there. Last time we played them they shot 34 and we shot eight. It's hard to win when it's that different."

This time Bell City attempted 30, hitting 17, compared to Scott Central's 11 attempts.

As the Cubs extended the lead even further, Scott Central resorted to several difficult 3-point attempts.

"We started shooting the 3-pointers too early," said Porter. "I thought Bell City just outhustled us. They beat us to every ball. His kids have been here and they've been to state. You can tell, they never quit. Even when they were down they just kept chipping away and chipping away."

Although they did hit five of their eight 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, Bell City's lead had swelled to an insurmountable margin.

"That's where I thought the pressure of being the favorite hurt them," said Heeb. "You could see it, they were looking up at the scoreboard. They panicked a little bit. Our kids have been in that situation all year long -- that's why we play a good schedule. We're used to having to fight our way back and tonight we were able to do it again."

Scott Central controlled the early going in the game as they led 11-6 after one quarter.

After trailing 15-6, Bell City rallied to cut the score to 15-14, but the Braves once again took control, eventually leading 27-20 at the half.

The Cubs had to play much of the first half without junior Jeff Liggins and freshman D.D. Gillespie -- the team's top two scorers.

"Our bench kept us close in the first half and D.D. and Jeff got to play in the second half," said Heeb. "I thought with our best five on the floor, we were better tonight."

Bell City was led by Gillespie's 14 points. Lasters scored all 13 of his points in the second half. Liggins followed up with 11 points.

Scott Central was led by Porter's son, Isaac Porter, with 18 points. Josh Boley followed up with nine points.

Heeb had mixed emotions following the game after beating his alma mater, with which he still has close ties.

"It's really bittersweet," said Heeb. "I wish we didn't have to play them because I really like all those kids. They all played on the first team I ever coached in little league baseball. They're great, great kids. They're definitely one of the top two or three teams in the state."

So are the Cubs ready for a repeat state championship?

"We feel like whoever's going to win it has to come through us," said Heeb. "We're a tough out."