PORTAGEVILLE - The Portageville Bulldogs advanced to the championship game of Class 3, District 1 Wednesday by defeating the Twin Rivers Royals 55-52 in overtime.
The win for the Bulldogs was the first in three tries against Twin Rivers in recent district play. In 2001 and 2002, the Royals ended Portageville's season with district wins.
The contest featured something for everybody. There was stingy defense; the two teams mustered only 33 total points in the first half. There was a last-
second shot that decided the game and neither team led by more than nine points in the contest.
Willie Hassell led the Bulldogs with 27 points making 10-of-11 free throw attempts. Jordan Penn netted 16.
Michael Lance was tops for Twin Rivers with 26.
Neither team could solve the other's defense in the first period. The Royals did manage to put together an 8-2 mini-run to lead after one quarter 10-7.
Defense dominated play in the second quarter with Portageville holding Twin Rivers to only six points. A bucket at the buzzer by Hassell put Portageville up by a point 17-16 at intermission.
Hassell's bucket at the 5:09 point of the third quarter gave the Bulldogs a 23
-20 advantage, but that period belonged to the Royals.
From there, Lance was unstoppable. He was in the middle of a 10-2 run with six points and Twin Rivers led by seven 32-25, at the end of three.
Thanks to Hassell, the Bulldogs clawed their way back in the fourth quarter. It began with a bucket at the 7:20 point by Hassell to pull Portageville to within five at 32-27. Jared Stockton answered with a bucket and Lance did also and Twin Rivers led by the game's biggest margin 36-27.
In the last half of the period, Hassell took over the contest.
In the fourth quarter, he scored the final 11 points for Portageville including 8-of-9 from the charity stripe. Four of them were consecutive when an intentional foul was called at the 3:12 mark.
Hassell made two free throws with 57 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 48-48, which is where things stood heading into overtime.
In the overtime period, the Royals went up by two on a pair of free throws by Lance, but Hassell hit two buckets to put the Bulldogs up by a 52-50 score with 2:22 left to play.
The Royals knotted the score on a bucket by Lance with just over a minute left. Portageville took possession and let the clock wind down to only five seconds to go when a Bulldog timeout was called.
With the final five seconds ticking away, Penn found himself alone in the left corner after a good pass from Cory Chamberlain, and drilled the biggest three of his career to give Portageville a 55-52 lead.
Twin Rivers quickly inbounded the ball and Stockton miraculously sank a 60-
foot shot but it came after the buzzer and was waved off.
"What a way to finish! You have to hand it to Twin Rivers and especially to the Lance kid. He was unstoppable and he really almost took over and we didn't have an answer for him and I think the bottom line was that time ran out on them," said Portageville coach Jim Bidewell.
Tonight's championship game against third-seeded Caruthersville will tip off at 7:30 p.m.
Four of the five starters for Caruthersville scored in double figures with Kyle Hubbard's 20 leading the way for some balanced scoring. Paul Sanders garnered 16, Kendrickus Reed got 13 and Plessie Ellitt added 11.
In the first quarter of play, it appeared NMCC, who had a four-game winning streak on the line, would hang with the highly-touted Tigers.
Quenton Binion and Joseph Howell, who had 12 and 11 points, respectively in the contest, opened the scoring for the Eagles with consecutive buckets and they led 4-0 but the Tigers responded on a Sanders bucket and a Hubbard three and Caruthersville led for the first time 5-4.
The score after one quarter of play was 17-14, Caruthersville.
Caruthersville steadily built up a 10-point advantage in the second stanza, but NMCC battled back in the final three minutes on three unanswered buckets by Joseph Howell and a pair of free throws by Malcolm Long (9 points) and NMCC trailed by only three, 29-26, at the half.
The third period proved to be decisive.
Caruthersville methodically picked apart the Eagle defense and led handily 52-35 by the end of the quarter and the contest was decided.
"I was so excited in the first and second quarter and how we made it close. I'm really proud of the way our kids played," said NMCC coach Scott Kruse.