But those hopes were dashed in one final gasp from top-seeded Notre Dame, who captured the championship 67-65 at the Sikeston Field House on Friday.
With 2.9 seconds left, and second-seeded Sikeston clinging to a 65-54 lead, Notre Dame's Abe Dirnberger inbounded the ball to star junior forward Ryan Willen for a potential game-winning shot.
Sikeston immediately surrounded Willen. With no chance to get off a clean shot, Willen alertly passed the ball back to Dirnberger.
Dirnberger caught the pass and launched a 28-foot shot that swished through the net as the horn sounded. Notre Dame players and fans exploded onto the floor in celebration while Sikeston could do nothing but watch in stunned silence.
"We only had 2.9 so you couldn't do too much," said Notre Dame coach Paul Hale, whose team improves to 24-4. "We wanted Ryan to take a 3 off the double-pick, but Sikeston got to him so fast and he threw it over there to Abe. It wasn't what we designed. It wasn't skill, it was luck. We won on a lucky shot."
It was a dramatic end to another classic contest between the two schools, but this time it was heartbreaking for Sikeston.
"I feel so sorry for Sikeston," said Hale. "I've lost games like that, but not to the magnitude of a district final. My hats off to them. They played a heck of a ballgame."
Said Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield: "I thought both teams really battled hard and played well. You have to give them a lot of credit. They're well-coached and they didn't quit. We were in a position to win the game and they made a really difficult shot. You have to compliment them and I hope they continue on and represent our area very well."
But uncanny 3-point shooting by Notre Dame combined with poor free throw shooting by Sikeston allowed the visiting Bulldogs to make the comeback.
Notre Dame drilled nine 3-pointers on the night, including six by reserve junior guard Mark Himmelberg.
Sikeston was a paltry 10-of-22 (45 percent) from the charity stripe, leaving the door open for the dramatic finish. Notre Dame went 10-14 from the free throw line.
"We missed some free throws and we're normally a good free throw shooting team," said Holifield. "We just didn't get it done. It was just unbelievable. It's one of those situations where the ball went their way. Last year it went our way, but the ball went their way tonight. I thought both teams were intense and both teams played well. Sometimes it looks sloppy, but that's because both teams are really working hard and doing a good job on defense. I knew it was going to be back and forth the whole night."
There were 16 lead changes and nine ties in the game.
Friday night's contest rivaled last year's exciting game that Sikeston won 69-65 at the Field House.
It was another jam-packed arena and another nail-biting affair.
As opposed to last year's start, this time Notre Dame jumped out to the quick lead, taking a 4-0 advantage just 10 seconds into the game.
Notre Dame led by as much as 14-4 after Himmelberg drained his second 3-
Sikeston responded by going on an 11-1 run to tie the game at 15-15. Himmelberg hit his third 3-pointer to break the tie, giving Notre Dame an 18-15 lead. But Sikeston scored twice in the final 30 seconds to lead 19-18 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, Notre Dame once again pushed ahead to start the period with a 9-2 run to lead 27-21.
Sikeston senior Josh Jackson stopped the momentum with a 3-pointer, but Notre Dame pushed ahead to 34-28 later in the quarter.
Once again Sikeston closed the quarter strong as Isaac Porter hit a 3-pointer, Ray Rodgers hit a fade-away shot and Michael Porter scored inside to give the Bulldogs a 35-34 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the two teams exchanged leads five different times. Sikeston led 50-45 after a Julian Beard 3-pointer with 32 seconds left, but Notre Dame's Ty Williams hit two free throws with 14 seconds left in the quarter to cut the lead to 50-47.
Despite Notre Dame's 3-point barrage, Sikeston's defense had held the high-
scoring visiting Bulldogs to 47 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Sikeston built the lead to 53-47 after a Blake Taylor conventional 3-point play. Rodgers hit 1-2 from the free throw line with 6:57 left in the game to give Sikeston its biggest lead of the night at 54-47.
After a scramble for a loose ball, Willen found Himmelberg in the corner for another 3-pointer to keep Notre Dame in striking distance at 54-50.
Notre Dame eventually tied the game on Willen's conventional 3-point play with 5:19 left.
There were four more lead changes over the next two minutes until Sikeston took charge at 64-61 on a Rodgers free throw with 1:12 left.
Moments later, Himmelberg sunk his sixth 3-pointer to tie the game with 58 seconds left.
Sikeston then turned the ball over on the next possession, but with 20 seconds left, Rodgers stole the ball and dribbled up the floor.
He lost control after crossing halfcourt, but Michael Porter scooped it up and was fouled with 15 seconds left.
He made the first free throw to give the Bulldogs a 65-64 lead, but he missed the second. Notre Dame rebounded and had trouble getting into an offense, forcing Hale to call timeout with 2.9 seconds left setting up the miracle finish.
"It was just a battle from the opening tipoff," said Hale. "They had a great game-plan and they handled what we threw at them. Sikeston is a great team and we had to battle all night long. They were district champions last year and second in the state and we had to beat the best to go on.
"As far as district finals this is probably the most exciting I've ever been a part of. Any time you win a district they're all big, but this might be a game that propels us to bigger and better things."
On the flip side of the coin, it's the Bulldogs' third loss to Notre Dame in the last five years in district play with all three being decided on the final play of the game.
"This one ranks right up there with the loss in 2003 up there at Notre Dame when we were in a tough situation and lost a very difficult game," said Holifield. "This one is as tough as any of them."
Heading into Friday's game, Sikeston had won all six of its district championship game appearances since 1991.
Himmelberg tied for team-high honors with Williams to score 18 points. Willen finished with 16 points. Dirnberger, who Hale said had "maybe three or four 3-pointers" all season, had just two points until his final dagger.
But it was Himmelberg that proved to be the X-factor.
"They would dribble penetrate and we would show help and then they'd kick it and (Himmelberg) was very quick with his release and would knock it down," said Holifield. "We were a step slow getting to where we needed to be to cover him."
Sikeston sophomore Michael Porter had a stellar night, scoring a game-high 27 points (13-15 shooting) with eight rebounds and four assists while holding the 6-foot-8 Willen in check.
"He played very well," said Holifield of Porter. "He really stepped up and showed that he is a big-time player. I thought in the second half we did a really good job on Willen. We surrounded him and took away a lot of the things he wanted."
Beard capped off a nice career, in which he surpassed 1,000 points, with 17 points Friday night.
"Julian really has gotten so much better," said Holifield of the second team all-stater. "He's matured so much and worked hard and has gotten better. He'll have a chance to go play somewhere and he'll end up being a good player in college."
Sikeston had 10 assists compared to 12 turnovers. The Bulldogs only managed 18 rebounds as a team.
The Bulldogs shot 25-46 (54 percent) from the field.
Seniors Rodgers, Isaac Porter, Taylor and Jackson finished with a combined 19 points. Forwards Cameron Wiggins and Joe Moore will also graduate this year.
"I'm really proud of our seniors," said Holifield. "They had a great career and were a big part of this program. Even guys that didn't get on the floor much, they really stepped up and did a wonderful job. They had a very successful two years. You just can't say enough about the effort they put forth. They worked every day to be as good as they could be."
Taylor finished with five points and was considered Sikeston's best perimeter defender.
"Blake had a terrific game," said Holifield. "He got better every game it seemed like this year. He had very few turnovers tonight and played about as well as he could play. I was really proud of his effort."
Isaac Porter had five points, three rebounds and three steals.
"Isaac has been so steady for us," said Holifield. "He really holds us together and he's so solid. He does a good job offensively and defensively."
Rodgers, after averaging 13 points and seven rebounds through Sikeston's first six games, broke his hand in a weightlifting accident and never could get back to his pre-injury form.
"Ray had a tough year," said Holifield. "He was out most of the year with an injury and he never got back in the swing of things like I know he wanted to. But he was a battler and I thought he really competed hard there in the fourth quarter."
Jackson came back out for the team after sitting out as a junior and he provided the Bulldogs with intense, hard-nosed play, scoring the occasional basket and drawing tough defensive assignments.
"Josh Jackson really played well and gave us some valuable minutes," said Holifield. "We were really glad he came back out this year."
Wiggins and Moore have been with the program since eighth grade and proved to be valuable in different ways to the team.
"Joe and Cameron are great teammates and great guys," said Holifield. "They work as hard as they can in practice and really supported our squad."
After taking second in the state in Class 4 last year, Sikeston's encore season hit rough patches with injuries and illnesses that played a large role in some defeats.
Of Sikeston's nine losses, five were by two points or less and three were by nine points or less.
But the Bulldogs finally appeared to get back to health in February as they rattled off seven straight "running clock" victories.
"This group of players really stepped up and played well down the stretch," said Holifield. "We had some injuries and some illness and that's the reason why we struggled at times and a lot of people didn't give us much of a chance of winning. We just had some problems at that time, but our kids really pulled together these last eight games and played well down the stretch. We lose a group of seniors that have been a huge part of this program and our success and we're going to miss them. We'll just have to get back to work this offseason and try to be the best we can be next season."
Second-seeded Notre Dame captured the Class 4, District 1 girls championship by beating the state-ranked top-seeded Lady Cats.
Notre Dame led 9-7 after one quarter and 22-19 at the half. The Lady Bulldogs pushed out to a 40-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter where they put the game away.
Kristain Burger led all scorers with 15 points. Meridith Medlin added 13 points and Claudia Brauss scored 10 points.
Courtney Kemp led Fredericktown with 12 points.
Lady Cat center Betsy Royer managed just eight points.
Fredericktown, which had defeated Notre Dame earlier in the season, finished its season at 22-3.
Notre Dame improves to 18-8 on the season.
Notre Dame's girls advance to the Class 4 sectional round where they will play state-ranked Farmington (24-3) at Mineral Area College on Wednesday.