PARK HILLS -- When the Sikeston Bulldogs meet the DeSoto Dragons tomorrow night at Mineral Area College in a Class 4 Sectional game, they won't be strangers to each other.
The two teams played eight times from 1996-2003 before the series ended last season.
While their games over the years provided many entertaining battles, now they are meeting for the right to stay alive in the state playoffs.
Tipoff is set for 8:15 p.m.
Although they didn't play last season, longtime DeSoto coach Allen Davis hasn't forgotten how tough Sikeston was on his team -- the Bulldogs beat the Dragons six of those eight meetings, including five straight from 1998-2002.
"This is probably the most athletic team I've seen Sikeston have in quite some time," said Davis. "It's going to be quite a task. We're not used to that kind of pressure that we're probably gonna see on Wednesday night. Sikeston kids really play hard and they get after you for 94 feet.
"I've heard a lot about them but we've had a hard time getting game film on them. We'll probably have to use several different weapons. We're fortunate that all five of my kids can bring the ball up and down the floor. We'll probably have to use multiple ways to relieve some of that pressure."
After two of his returning starters moved out of the school district, Davis admitted that he thought this season would have some growing pains.
"This year we had a tough time because we lost those two starters," said Davis. "That hurt us a little bit. We're all underclassmen. I play two seniors and the rest are juniors and one sophomore. The first part of the season we struggled through the first 10 games. We went into St. Louis and played some good competition and we got more focused. We've been playing pretty well of late."
The Dragons have won six of their last eight games after the slow start and they are now 18-10 on the season. They rolled through their District 2 competition, defeating Potosi 53-38 and Festus in the title game 58-43.
It's DeSoto's 16th district championship and its fifth in the last eight years. They've advanced to the final four three times, last coming in 2003. They took third in the state in 1993 and finished fourth the other two times.
DeSoto's top scorer is 5-foot-10 junior guard Justin Madden, who averages 12.6 points per game. Jake Huskey, a 6-5 junior forward, adds 11.3 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Five-foot-11 junior guard Tyson Davis scores 9.2 ppg and Nic Harbison, a 6
-5 sophomore, scores 5.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg.
"Offensively they shoot the 3 real well and we're going to have to get out and guard that," said Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield. "We've got to contain and put ourselves in a position to take away those looks. They also have a good post player in the Husky kid. We've got to cover him as well. They rebound well, which is one of our strengths. We're a good offensive rebounding team, but they're a good defensive rebounding team."
The fifth starter, 5-11 senior Kevin Baisch, scores 4.9 ppg and grabs 3.6 rpg.
Davis says that all five can handle the ball and they are all good shooters.
"We've got a pretty good perimeter game and the good thing about that is it's unlimited," said Davis. "It's not just 19'9". A lot of our kids can shoot a lot further out, similar to the player he has in Kash Bratcher. I've got about three or four kids that like to shoot it way out there."
Davis feels his team doesn't match up with Sikeston well in the quickness department, but he said don't expect any shenanigans such as stall tactics. He just doesn't want to get in a track meet with the Bulldogs.
"My kids like to play more up-tempo than what I like and I'm not sure we can play with Sikeston that way," said Davis. "I don't think we want to try to run with them. Sikeston's game is to get you up and down the floor. I'm not going to try to hold the ball or do anything like that. We're just going to play. I'm not one of those kind of guys that wants to win on flukes. I think the best team is going to win. We're not going to do anything different than we have all year."
Sikeston claimed its 17th district championship with a 69-65 win against No. 5 state ranked Notre Dame on Friday. It's the Bulldogs' first playoff appearance since 2000 and it's their sixth since 1991.
Sikeston took fourth place in its only final four appearance in 1995.
Sikeston has won 11 straight games and come into the game 20-6 on the season.
While Sikeston was an underdog by many accounts in the Notre Dame game, the tide has turned and now they are considered the favorite heading into tomorrow's matchup.
"It was a high Friday night and it was an emotional game," said Holifield, who has led the Bulldogs to three district titles in his eight years at Sikeston. "We just have to bounce back. We have certain goals that we started the season with and we're still trying to achieve those. Our players understand that and they're continuing to work. Hopefully we'll go to Mineral Area and play well. I think we're playing our best basketball. We've won quite a few games in a row now. The kids are playing well together and working hard. We've got to continue doing that."
Sikeston freshman Michael Porter, a 6-3 forward, leads the team with 15.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg.
Six-foot-two junior guard Julian Beard averages 13.6 ppg and 4.0 rpg. Rod Moore, a 6-foot senior forward, chips in with 11.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg.
Bratcher, a 5-5 senior, adds 10 ppg and 1.7 rpg while junior forward Isaac Porter scores 7.8 ppg and grabs 4.8 rpg.
Juniors Ray Rodgers and Blake Taylor come off the bench and are big contributors. Rodgers scores 6.6 ppg and grabs 3.0 rpg. Taylor averages 4.9 ppg and 3.0 assists per game.
The two schools have three common opponents this season.
DeSoto split two games with Fredericktown (W 55-44 and L 57-39), defeated Perryville (52-36) and lost to Farmington (75-56).
Sikeston defeated Farmington (73-54), Fredericktown twice (62-39 and 64
-41) and Perryville (89-61).
But Holifield expects nothing less than the toughest test of the season for the Bulldogs.
"I have a lot of respect for coach Davis and his teams," said Holifield. "We've competed against each other for years and he does a great job. His teams are always well-prepared. They're going to be hard to beat. They do a lot of good things. They shoot the ball extremely well and defensively they're very sound. They have all the ingredients for a good team and they're peaking at the right time like they always do."