(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
PERRYVILLE -- After Sikeston defeated Notre Dame 75-70 on Dec. 14, the Sikeston student section began chanting "We want Willen," referring to the Notre Dame all-stater who missed the game due to an injury. On Saturday night, they got him.
Playing in front of a sold out, vocal crowd, the 6-8 senior scored 23 points and pulled down nine rebounds in Notre Dame's 59-36 win over Sikeston in the Class 4, District 1 championship game.
"Willen is a tough ball player," said Notre Dame coach Paul Hale. "He's our leading rebounder, scorer and best passer. He's just a good player and I thought he played awful well tonight."
The much anticipated match-up of Willen against Sikeston's Michael Porter never came to fruition as the Notre Dame defense keyed on Porter all night, limiting the all-stater to 13 points.
By not allowing the ball inside, the Notre Dame defense forced Sikeston to shoot from outside, but the Bulldogs' sharp-shooting guards were unusually cold, hitting only 2-of-19 from 3-point range. The 36 points was a season-
low for Sikeston.
"We wanted to try to get the ball inside more," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "They were doing a great job clogging up the inside. We just didn't make shots tonight. Our guards have been good all year and have worked extremely hard. We had some good looks, some open looks, but it just didn't fall for us tonight and that's just how it goes some nights."
Sikeston fell behind early as Notre Dame jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter. However Sikeston closed the gap to 13-9 at quarter's end and looked to have the momentum. But a Willen 3-pointer to start the second quarter once again put Sikeston on their heels.
With Sikeston scrambling to find offense, Notre Dame continued to add to their lead, taking a 31-19 lead into halftime.
"We didn't play well early," Holifield said. "They are a potential state championship team. (Once you get down) you've got your problems because you've got to scramble back. Once we got down we had to battle back and try to keep it close and within reach and we just couldn't do that."
Holifield said Sikeston hoped to cut the lead down to six or seven points in the third quarter but Notre Dame's John Unterreiner had other plans. The 5-
11 junior scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter as Notre Dame built a 20-point lead 49-29, forcing Sikeston to press and foul.
"It's hard to press them because they all catch it and handle it so well," Holifield said. "Plus, once you get down, you have to foul and they all shoot free throws so well."
Notre Dame hit 11-of-13 free throws on the night, including 5-of-7 in the final quarter. The Bulldogs improved their record to 19-6 and will take on DeSoto Wednesday night in sectionals.
"We're very proud and lucky to be in this position," Hale said. "Sikeston is a real fine ball club and I have all the respect in the world for their team and coaches. We feel very lucky to get out of here with a win."
For Sikeston, Saturday night was a bitter end to a stellar season that saw the Bulldogs finish with a 22-4 record, one of the best in school history.
"I told our kids they didn't have anything to hang their heads about," Holifield said. "They were probably one of the most consistent teams in southeast Missouri the entire year. It just didn't go our way tonight. Overall our team had a great year and I'm very proud of their effort."
Sikeston will lose six seniors: Brandon Washington, Dominique McCray, Matt Ritch, Scott Droddy, Sherwin Jones and Stephen Jackson.
"It is a great senior class," Holifield said. "All those guys worked hard every day in practice and games. They provided great leadership. I couldn't be more proud of a group of seniors than I am that group."
While Sikeston loses many seniors, Porter, Juqualin W
iggins and Cal Lane are just a few of the returners who Sikeston will have to build on next season.
"We're young," Holifield said. "This is a great game, a great atmosphere for these guys to play in, especially our young kids. There is no doubt this experience will help them and our younger kids are driven. I'm sure this will make them better."