Scott Central will have tough test in semifinals against Jefferson
COLUMBIA -- It's true what they say about history repeating itself because it is just like old times again as a familiar team and a familiar coach is back on the road to another final four in Columbia.
The Scott County Central Braves, led by legendary coach Ronnie Cookson, will be making their 14th trip to the "Show-Me Showdown" at the Mizzou Arena on Thursday.
Cookson, who has been on the sidelines for the orange, black and white for 27 years, will try and obtain one more state championship to add to their Missouri high school record of 12, winning their first in 1976. One of those twelve was a Class 2 state championship in 1980.
Cookson and the Braves hold the record for most state titles won in a row with seven straight between 1985-91.
He and his Braves are also 25-1 in final four competition. The "one" was from 1994 when the Braves were defeated by Lockwood High School, which was also Cookson's last time reaching the state final four after retiring that same year. Cookson has a career record of 687-139.
Cookson returned to the Braves in 2006 though, after the departure of former coach David Heeb. Heeb, who coached the Braves in the 2005-06 season, was dealt a suspension from the Missouri State High School Activities Association during the 2005-06 season. Heeb is now the women's coach at Robert Morris College in Springfield, Ill.
Back from retirement and again making the trip, Cookson says it is a true honor to once again reach the state tournament.
"When you make it to the final four, that's a privilege," Cookson said. "That's really a privilege. It's exciting for the boys. I'm tickled to death for them."
The Braves have had a tremendous season thus far with a 27-2 record and finished first in the Scott-Mississippi Conference with a 5-0 record. The Braves are also on a 20-game winning streak that dates back from the seMissourian Christmas tournament when they lost to the Class 4 state champion Notre Dame Bulldogs, 68-60.
The Braves have had a wide range of contributors for them this year. Four Braves have a scoring average of at least 10 points a game for the season.
Drew Thomas leads the team in scoring with 19.2 points a game. The 6-0 junior is also second in rebounding with a 6.3 average.
Thomas was the leading scorer for the Braves in the quarterfinals game against Chadwick with 32 points.
Behind Thomas is the senior duo of Caleb Johnson and D.D. Gillespie.
Gillespie, a 5-10 guard, is second in scoring averaging 18.7 points a game. He has also been a threat from behind the arc hitting 43 3-pointers and one of the many defensive weapons for the Braves.
Johnson, who has a reputation for playing the inside much bigger than his 6-
1 frame, is the leading rebounder for Scott Central. Averaging 7.7 rebounds a game, Johnson has recorded 200 total rebounds, as well as, an average of 14.8 points a game.
The Scott Central version of "the big three" have no trouble racking in the points on most nights. Especially, if 5-10 sophomore Bobby Hatchett is dishing them the ball.
Hatchett has racked up 84 assists for the Braves to go along with his 10.9 points a game.
Rounding out the starting five for the Braves is freshman Otto Porter. Porter took on more of a starting role for the Braves about halfway through the season, which added a little more height to the line-up. The 6-2 post-player is averaging eight points and 4.7 rebounds a game.
As a team, the Braves are the highest scoring team in the Class 1 final four averaging 85.1 points a night. They are the highest averaging rebounding team as well with 32.3 rebounds a night.
Although, waiting for the Braves in the semi-final round is the two-time defending Class 1 state champions; the Jefferson Eagles.
"We got the number one rated team in the state right off the blocks," Cookson said. "So, it's going to be tough. I hope the kids stay concentrated and get dialed in on what they're wanting to do when they get up there."
The Eagles have won three state championships in their school history once in 2000, 2006 and 2007. They have also made seven trips to the final four.
The Eagles (27-2) are coached by Tim Jermain who has been at Jefferson for eight years and has recorded a 216-18 career record with the Eagles.
Jefferson has lost only two games this season. One to a Class 5 team, Truman High School, who finished fourth in the state championship finals this year. Truman fell to the eventual winners of the Class 5 championship in the semifinals. The other loss was from Sandia Prep from New Mexico.
The Eagles have three players averaging over 10 points a game: Craig Mattson, Doug Archer and Kyle Schieber.
Mattson is a 6-4 junior who averages 16.7 points a game and also creates plenty of scoring opportunities for his teammates as well with 109 assists on the year.
The big man for the Eagles is 6-7 senior Doug Archer. Archer averages 12.2 points a game and 6.7 rebounds.
Schieber, a 6-0 junior, averages 12.2 points a game for the Eagles.
"We got a big game ahead of us against the number one team in class one," Drew Thomas said about playing the defending champs. "We just got to come out and play hard. We don't have anything to lose. My intentions is to just go out there and put everything on the floor. When we get done, win or lose, I'm not going to have any energy left. I'm just going to put it all out on the floor."
The Braves will try to topple the defending champs at the Mizzou Arena on Thursday in a semifinal game at 12:20 p.m.