EAST PRAIRIE -- In a pivotal Scott-Mississippi Conference matchup, Scott City hung on to edge East Prairie and virtually drop the Eagles out of the conference title race with a 73-70 win on Friday.
Three teams, East Prairie, Scott City and Scott County Central, entered tonight's contests tied for second with one loss apiece behind undefeated conference leader Kelly.
East Prairie, 15-7 overall and the reigning Scott-Mississippi tournament champion, fell to 3-2, while Scott City (13-7) improved to 4-1 with a home meeting against Kelly (2-0) scheduled for Tuesday. Scott Central, a non-conference winner over New Madrid County Central on Friday, remained at 4-1 in the league, also.
East Prairie dropped its fourth straight, but not without a fight.
"This is a tough place to play and this is a great East Prairie team," said Scott City coach Lance Amick. "We came into a tough environment and really battled tonight. It really shows the character of this team to come out here tonight after a tough loss on Tuesday (69-62 to Bell City), play hard and win a tough ballgame."
Trailing by as many as 10 points (59-49) early in the fourth quarter, East Prairie began to chip away at the Scott City lead. A 7-0 run, capped by Jordan Sanders' first of three fourth-quarter 3-pointers, cut the margin to three at 59-56.
But Scott City showed its resilience with a 5-0 run of its own on Mark Dannenmueller's conventional 3-point play and, a bit later, two Dannenmueller free throws.
"The biggest thing was we stayed poised and showed the maturity of a team that's won before," said Amick.
The Eagles again climbed to within three at 68-65, then to within two at 70-68 on Sanders' off-balance trey at 1:02.
After a Scott City timeout, Dannenmueller broke free on an inbounds play and scored a layup to send the Rams ahead 72-68 with :58 remaining.
"That was actually something we designed," Amick said. "I told him (Daniel Jackson, the inbounds trigger) that if there's nobody back Mark would fake up, then go back and, if the pass was there, he should score a layup or get fouled. The kids executed it well."
On East Prairie's next possession, Anthony Smith was fouled and missed both free-throw attempts, but Preston Shoemaker gathered the loose ball on the second miss and scored on a jumper in the lane to slice the lead to 72-70 with :25 to go.
Scott City freshman Ethan Watkins, fouled with 16.5 seconds left, hit one of two from the charity stripe, forcing a 3-point attempt by the Eagles to tie. Two errant shot attempts preceded the final buzzer.
"You can't ask for much more," said East Prairie coach Jason Irby. "Our kids had a couple of looks at the end to tie it and send it into overtime. We just couldn't drop one of them."
Mediocrity at the line cost the Eagles dearly. They were only 10-of-20, while Scott City was a stellar 20-of-24.
"We missed some free throws again tonight and they didn't," said Irby. "But the problem tonight was we just couldn't get enough stops on the other end. Scott City's a good bunch and Dannenmueller's an all-stater for a reason. He made some unbelievable shots on us."
Dannenmueller finished with a game-high 30 points and teammate Mark Johnston added 17 to lead the Rams' attack. Unheralded reserve Travis Glueck finished with eight, all in the second half at key spots to defuse Eagle' runs.
Said Irby, "I thought the Glueck kid stepped up and made a couple of big shots. You know Dannenmueller and Johnston are going to score, but, for him to step up and hit a couple of big shots, that was big in a two or three-point game."
Sanders, who totaled five 3-pointers and a hat trick from the foul line when fouled on an attempted trey, led East Prairie with 18 points. Quicksilver guard Dez Johnson added 15 and Jared Carden chipped in with 13, several coming on second-chance stickbacks.
After a 13-10 first-quarter lead and a 21-20 advantage early in the second quarter, East Prairie lost the lead and never regained it.
Irby, looking for answers to the Eagles' recent slide after a 10-game win streak, said, "Our kids are playing hard, they're just not getting anything to show for it right now. (In) a couple of previous losses, we just weren't playing with the effort we needed at times.
"Tonight, the effort was there but we're still making some silly mistakes that we shouldn't be making at this point in the year. We've just got to keep trying to get 'em corrected. I don't think it's any one thing; it's just a few silly mistakes here and there."
It gets no easier for the Eagles who visit state-ranked Portageville on Tuesday.
Scott City hosts Kelly in a conference matchup, also on Tuesday.