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SHS notches quarterfinal victory over St. James

Monday, March 6, 2006

(Photo)
Sikeston Bulldogs hoist senior point guard Kash Bratcher during celebration of their victory.
FARMINGTON -- It's been 11 years since Sikeston's last final four appearance in boys basketball.

Now the Bulldogs are going back to Columbia for the second time in school history.

Sikeston defeated a fundamentally sound St. James squad 62-54 on Saturday night in a Class 4 quarterfinal game in front of more than 3,000 fans at the Farmington Civic Center to advance to the state semifinals.

The Bulldogs (22-6) will take on Ozark (21-9) on Friday at 12:10 p.m. at Mizzou Arena. Ozark won its quarterfinal game 46-32 against Logan-

Rogersville.

(Photo)
Sikeston freshman Michael Porter led the Bulldogs with 20 points.
The Bulldogs last made it to the Show Me Showdown in 1995 when they were in the state's largest classification in 4A.

MSHSAA went to a five-class format in 2003.

"This is a great moment," said Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield, who is in his eighth year as head coach. "We've had some teams here that have been good and some have struggled. But all the teams are special and this particular group just pulled together as a team. Our kids have worked hard all season and they've gotten better every day through their work ethic. It's a great group that comes in every day focused.

"The players deserve all the credit because they've really meshed together as a team. They're very unselfish and you can see that they really like each other. You can't say enough about the character of our players."

It was a special moment for the Bulldog players.

(Photo)
Sikeston's Ray Rodgers toes up for two of his 13 points.
"We've been working for this all year, all the way back to last summer," said senior B.J. Green. "When I was with football, my other teammates were still working out and doing what they had to do to get us here."

"I'm glad to be there and we're looking forward to being there next week and we're going to try to win it," said junior Isaac Porter.

"It feels great -- I don't know how to explain it," said junior Julian Beard. "Everybody stepped up their games today. We played well as a team and moved the ball around."

Senior Rod Moore said, "We've never had this kind of opportunity to get there. If we keep playing as a team I think we have a good chance of winning state."

The Bulldogs will get that chance next weekend. But in the meantime, they were savoring Saturday night's victory.

"You can see our bench, it was an entire team effort," said Holifield. "There were guys that have been playing all year that didn't get any playing time tonight and they were as excited as anybody. That's how you win basketball games. It's an entire team effort and you never know from game to game whose going to step up and be the hero. That's the kind of attitude we've got and I'm very proud of that."

Saturday's game was a nailbiter, but the Bulldogs' superior depth and rebounding ability helped hold off the smaller St. James team.

The Tigers (19-10) actually led for most of the night as Sikeston never could seem to get over the hump.

But the Bulldogs finally snared the lead late in the third quarter and they never trailed again.

Sikeston steadily pulled away in the fourth quarter, withstood one final St. James run, and sealed it from the free throw line in the final minute.

"I'm telling you, they are impressive," said Holifield of St. James. "They pass it, catch it and handle it as well as any team we've seen all year. They do a great job of utilizing their strengths and in the first half they were hurting us in some areas."

Namely with superb ball movement and outside shooting ability.

The Bulldogs' pressure defense didn't seem to faze the Tigers much in the first three quarters.

But St. James, already thin on depth with a starter out with a knee injury, started to wear down late in the third quarter.

"We just kind of ran out of gas there," said third-year St. James coach Ben Smith. "Sikeston is a great team and they just kept working on us and working on us. They're strong and quick and they take a toll on you. I felt like we played as hard as we could but we just got gassed. They're right up there with some of the top teams we've played. Definitely as quick as any team we played and as deep as any team we played. They're a very good ballclub."

Sikeston took a 3-0 lead on a Kash Bratcher 3-pointer to start off the game, but the Tigers took control of things from that point.

St. James hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, led by as much as 15-9, and took an 18-17 lead at the end of the period.

The Tigers led for most of the second quarter as well. Beard tied it at 30-30 on a 3-pointer, but St. James connected on two straight baskets to take a 34

-30 lead into halftime.

St. James senior Chad Shockley scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, including 8-of-9 free throw shooting.

But Smith still wasn't comfortable.

"I didn't feel real good in the first half because we were playing well but we couldn't get a lead like I would have liked," said Smith. "We just hovered around two or four. They just came out with a little more energy in the second half than us."

Holifield said he had to make some adjustments for the second half, particularly on Shockley.

"We changed our position pressure -- we were up on them too tight," said Holifield. "They were quicker than we anticipated and they were getting around us. So we had to back off and play off the ball a little better. We wanted to back off and stay between 32 (Shockley) and the basket. We needed to help and hedge and recover quicker on the 3-point shooters."

Things didn't appear too much different in the third quarter as the Tigers once again pulled ahead 41-36 following a Shockley 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the period.

But that's when Sikeston made its run.

The Bulldogs finished the third quarter on an 8-0 run. Beard answered Shockley's 3-pointer with a trey of his own to start things off.

Then reserve forward Ray Rodgers took over.

The bulky, 6-foot-1 junior pulled the Bulldogs to 41-40 with a free throw. He then gave Sikeston its first lead since the first possession of the game with an offensive putback to make it 42-41 with 1:05 left.

With 38 seconds left, Rodgers came through again, scoring an inside basket to push the lead to 44-41.

"We've got a lot of senior players here and I didn't want to make it their last game," said Rodgers. "One of my brothers (Josh Porter) is a senior so I was doing it big for him tonight. I had to step up and knew I had to play my part."

The Bulldogs nearly extended the lead even further as Blake Taylor picked up a steal with time winding down. He raced against the clock the length of the floor and made the layup but it was ruled that the buzzer had sounded before the ball left his hands.

Even though the basket was waved off, the momentum had clearly shifted.

Rodgers picked up where he left off in the fourth. He made two free throws to give Sikeston a 46-41 lead.

After a St. James basket, Rodgers converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to give the Bulldogs a 49-43 advantage.

Rodgers eventually fouled out, but after the damage was assessed, he scored 10 points in a matter of three minutes of game time.

He finished with 13 points, tying his season high, and eight rebounds.

"Ray came off the bench and played as well as he has all year," said Holifield. "He really went to work and he did not back down. He's very strong physically and he gets great position inside. He's a player that has improved each and every day. It all goes back to his focus and work ethic."

The Bulldogs pushed the lead to 55-46 on an offensive putback by Beard with five minutes left.

Just when it appeared Sikeston was ready to put the finishing touches on the game, St. James had one last gasp.

As the Bulldogs tried to run some clock, the Tigers turned up the defensive intensity.

A free throw and a pair layups following steals trimmed the lead to 55-51 with 2:10 left.

"That's been us all year long," said Smith. "We've had deficits up to 20 points that we've come back and won. These kids just don't give up."

The Tigers' last chance to get back in it came with 1:24 left, but Shockley missed two free throws that could have made it a one-possession game.

Sikeston then hit 7-8 free throws in the final 1:18 to ice the victory.

Michael Porter had four straight, including two with 23 seconds left to give Sikeston its biggest lead of the night at 62-52.

The freshman finished with a team-high 20 points with eight rebounds.

"I'm here for coach Holifield and the team," said Porter. "We've got teammates that share the ball. We don't care about points or none of that other stuff. We just want the ring on our finger. That's all we want."

Beard added 17 points, including a season-high three 3-pointers, and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Sikeston, which resorted to perimeter shots early in the game, changed its offensive philosophy in the second half.

"I think we pounded the ball inside 90 percent of the time in the second half," said Holifield. "When they were covered our players kicked it out and we had better shot selection in the second half."

The Bulldogs also dominated the game in the rebounding department, out-

rebounding St. James 41-29, many of which came on the offensive end.

"We knew we had to come in here and hit the boards and rebound," said Holifield. "We've really gotten very aggressive on the boards. That's very important for us to win games."

Said Smith: "Offensive boards they really killed us. Their kids are strong, they jump well and they get good position. We didn't block out like we should have and that's what happens."

Plus, Sikeston's defense and depth must have taken its toll as the Tigers couldn't get outside shots to fall in the second half. They made four 3-

pointers in the first half, but just one in the second half.

St. James had just 20 second-half points.

"They just killed us on the inside game and we didn't shoot it well enough to counter it," said Smith. "If we didn't shoot well, we knew we would be in trouble. I had a feeling they were going to start pounding it inside in the second half. We tried to make some adjustments at halftime but they didn't work out the way we would've liked it to."

Moore finished with six points and had eight rebounds. Bratcher had five points and eight assists.

Isaac Porter had three rebounds and four steals, who, along with Taylor, drew the tough assignment of Shockley for most of the game.

Shockley had 13 rebounds to go with his big scoring night. Scott Thompson chipped in with 10 points and Austin Walls added seven points.

The Bulldogs turned the ball over a whopping 22 times compared to just 10 turnovers for St. James.

Sikeston has now won 13 straight games, the longest such streak since that fateful 1995 season.

"At one time we were 9-6 this year and playing good people," said Holifield. "But I could see us at that point getting better and becoming a team and starting to play off each other. They've just decided that we're not going to lose. Our players listen so well and they try to do things right."

Sikeston 62, St. James 54

(Varsity boys)

St. James1816 713--54
Sikeston17131418--62

ST. JAMES (54) -- Chad Shockley 27, Scott Thompson 10, Austin Walls 7, Damon Thomas 4, J.J. Jackson 4, Blake Woolsey 2. FG 14, FT 11-19, F 19. (3-

pointers: Thompson 2, Walls 2, Shockley 1. Fouled out: Shockley).

SIKESTON (62) -- Michael Porter 20, Julian Beard 17, Ray Rodgers 13, Rod Moore 6, Kash Bratcher 5, Isaac Porter 1. FG 17, FT 16-22, F 20. (3-pointers: Beard 3, Bratcher 1. Fouled out: Rodgers).