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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Sikeston hoops is on the rise

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sikeston Senior Cortne Beasley and Cameron Wiggins (behind) walk off the court.
It's been 11 years since Sikeston has been this nuts about basketball.

Police escorts out of town. Police escorts on the return trip. Pep assemblies. Mass fan support.

And in the middle of it all, a special basketball team.

A group of players, and coaches, that decided last summer that the losing was going to stop.

Sikeston's second place finish in the Class 4 state championships isn't a fluke. This has been building long before the season started.

Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield.
Off-season conditioning, summer basketball camps, and plenty of sweat and dedication last year showed that the incoming senior class wanted to go out with a bang.

The Bulldogs ended the 2004-05 season with a two-point loss to eventual state semifinalist Notre Dame in the district tournament. Sikeston finished just 9-15, but a wealth of talent returned with three starters, Kash Bratcher, Rod Moore and Julian Beard coming back.

Talented players from the junior varsity, such as Blake Taylor and Cortne Beasley, were improving every day.

I witnessed the summer conditioning and the dedication that the players showed. I saw Sikeston beating teams in summer camps, including Notre Dame and Bell City, that left me thinking, "Sikeston could have a chance to win a district title next year."

They were playing hard, playing as a team and most importantly, having fun. The improvement the players showed in just a few months after the regular season was impressive.

And then the Porters made the move to Sikeston in July when former Scott County Central coach Melvin Porter decided a change of scenery would be good for his family.

It was a move that they wouldn't regret.

Four players, Josh, Isaac, Michael and Ray Rodgers, joined Sikeston's talented returning crew and, after a couple months of adjustments, the Bulldogs developed into the state contender they became.

It was a delicate situation for Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield because with so many players, it would be difficult finding playing time for all of them and keeping everybody happy.

All of a sudden, players that were used to carrying the scoring load, probably weren't going to get as many shots.

Scoring averages were bound to decrease and different playing styles and backgrounds had to be meshed together.

At one point Sikeston was 9-6 and the team's future was clouded. Bad shot selection and unfamiliarity of each other's roles probably contributed to the inconsistent play.

People seemed to forget about the Bulldogs while district rival Notre Dame piled up one win after another.

Notre Dame was state-ranked, the Bulldogs weren't, even though Sikeston defeated them 83-61 on the road. Area fans claimed the game was too early in the season and Notre Dame hadn't hit its stride yet.

Most had Notre Dame penciled in for a final four appearance again.

Then, like the flip of a switch, Sikeston turned it around. The winning streak began with three straight impressive wins, but none that would garner much attention.

But when the Bulldogs knocked off Poplar Bluff, the whole area took notice. Sikeston began to make noise in the SEMO area rankings.

The Bulldogs continued to pound teams up until the district tournament. In a classic showdown with Notre Dame at a packed Sikeston Field House, the Bulldogs held on for a 69-65 win to capture the school's first district championship since 2000 and the third under Holifield.

Despite trailing in the third quarter against DeSoto and St. James in the sectional and quarterfinal rounds respectively, the Bulldogs persevered and managed to defeat both teams.

Sikeston also trailed against Ozark in the fourth quarter in the state semifinals, but once again they overcame adversity.

Besides "athletic," the word I kept hearing in Columbia in describing the Bulldogs was "composure."

I couldn't agree more. The team faced its share of adversity but always found ways to stay composed. The team didn't wear its emotions on its sleeves. They never got technical fouls. They always represented Sikeston with class and dignity.

This team overachieved in my opinion. I never expected a 23-7 season and a second place finish. I knew the Bulldogs would be good. But playing for the state championship, which had never been done before in Sikeston basketball history, was a stretch.

But it happened. And I'm not surprised. I saw how hard they worked. I saw how well Sikeston's returning players got along with the Porters -- they welcomed them as if they had always been part of the family. There was no jealousy. No selfishness. Just a collective desire to win a championship.

And guess what. This is just the beginning.

Sikeston's junior varsity went 18-6. The freshman team went 12-5 with its best player playing on the varsity. The eighth grade team went 12-1.

Sikeston's varsity returns three starters. They must find a way to replace Bratcher and Moore, two players that carried the Bulldogs at times this year.

But rest assured Sikeston won't be satisfied with second place. They will get right back to work soon enough, especially now that they've gotten a taste of what it's like to get to Columbia.

Sikeston hoops is on the rise.