The veteran Portageville head coach Jim Bidewell jested that tonight was the best in his 26 year career.
"Tonight is number one, you have to take a day at a time and every victory is the best," Bidewell said of the overtime win.
It was the Royals who came out fired up Monday night, as they completely dominated the Bulldogs (8-0) in the first half. Twin Rivers took a comfortable 33-16 advantage into the halftime break.
Bidewell felt his squad may have overlooked their semifinal foe early in the game.
"We came out a little star struck with ourselves and thought we were going to walk into the finals. It was a good lesson for us."
However, Bidewell and his Portageville squad refused to continue the game in that fashion and began the second half with a new intensity.
The Bulldogs proceeded to score 19 unanswered points to take the lead 35-33 in start the third quarter, many of the points coming from quick-handed steals and defensive rebounds.
"I told them that 'it is a gut check and I don't know what is in your heart, only you do'," He said. "They showed tonight that they have a lot of heart."
After Twin Rivers found that their lead had evaporated, they snapped back into action. The Royals went on a 5-0 run to end the third quarter and began the fourth quarter with a 38-35 lead.
Portageville held a 50-49 lead with under two minutes remaining in the game, when Bulldog guard Byron Wright fouled Twin Rivers' Cole McBroom. As both teams were in the double bonus, the contest would come down to who performed at the free throw line.
McBroom missed both, and after a Portageville rebound and Royals foul, the Bulldogs Dometric Treadwell knocked down both of his free throws to give his team the 52-49 advantage with 41 seconds left in the game.
Twin Rivers just would not go away. The Royals Brett Whitlock recieved the ball at the top of the key and knocked down a 20-foot 3-point jumper to tie the game at 52 with 30 seconds left.
Portageville missed a shot in the paint on the ensuing possession, but was fouled after they stole the ball back and the Bulldogs' Donnell Minnis stepped to the line to shoot two amidst a raucous crowd.
Minnis made both to give Portageville a 54-52 lead with only six seconds remaining. Twin Rivers only hope was a last second three point attempt, on which the Bulldogs were whistled for a blocking foul, sending the Royals' Garrett Stockton to the line to shoot two.
Garrett knocked both down and the game was sent to overtime.
A see-saw overtime period found the Bulldogs up 61-59 with 38 seconds left, when Brett Whitlock again hit a crucial three pointer with 18 seconds to take the lead.
It came down to a pair of free throws when Twin Rivers fouled Wright as he went up for an offensive rebound. Wright, shaking off a loud Royals fan section, calmly made them both. After a last second 80-foot attempt by the Royals, Portageville celebrated the emotional victory.
Wright was ecstatic after the win, but pointed to his team mates contributions over his.
"It felt good," Wright said of the game winning free throws. "But I'm just lucky that my team put me in that situation."
Wright finished the game with a team high 18 points.
Ryan Miller led Twin Rivers with 20 points. Whitlock contributed 19 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block to his teams' overtime loss.
Bidewell was pleased with his teams' free throw shooting, 69 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime, late in the game.
"Those were big," Bidewell said of the key free throws. "We missed a lot early, so the odds were in our favor to make those late ones, but you can't practice the type of situation we were in tonight and did well in."
Rebounding was a critical factor to the Bulldogs resurgence and eventual victory in the game.
"All rebounding is desire, that is all it is," Bidewell said. "In the first half, Twin Rivers had it and we didn't. In the second half, we stepped up and had it as well. The balls just went our way late. Twin Rivers deserves a lot of credit. They really fought and battled. We were fortunate."
Bidewell and his team will face the No.1 seeded Bernie Mules tonight in the championship game.
"They (Bernie) looked phenomenal tonight," he said. "They had two kids that they usually start on the bench with injuries tonight. I did not expect them to come out and beat Dexter in the manner that they did. There again, you never know what is in these young mens' hearts, they (Bernie) showed tonight that they deserved to be seeded No. 1. I told our kids in the locker room, 'They are No. 1 and we are No. 2, if you want to prove any different, you have to come ready to play tomorrow night."
The championship game will tip off tonight at 8:30 p.m.
The No.1 seeded Bernie Mules will advance to the championship game of the 52nd Anniversary Bloomfield Christmas Tournament with their convincing win over the Dexter Bearcats 68-41 Monday night in Bloomfield.
The Mules began the game with a 9-0 run and never let the Bearcats any closer than six points.
Bernie's firm defense caused several offensive miscues by Dexter, who turned the ball over 24 times in the game.
Mules head coach Brad Botsch said good defense has been the cornerstone of Bernie's title run.
"Defensively, our kids have been guarding well most of the year," Botsch said. "We had one game at Bell City where we did not guard very well. So far in this tournament, I feel we have defended really well. That is the way we win, defense."
The Mules, who lost standout Jake Smith in Saturday's game to a season ending broken foot, also saw post player Zach Curry leave Monday's game injured as well.
However, the remaining Bernie players were more than able to propel themselves to the victory.
"The kids just really rallied tonight," Botsch said. "We talk about adversity, I really think the mental toughness aspect we have emphasized really showed tonight. I thought they showed a lot of guts."
Botsch felt rebounding was another key aspect of the win.
"I think our kids did a good job rebounding tonight," he said. "We limited Dexter to one shot most of the time tonight. When you can do that, you are usually going to win the game."
Bearcats' head coach Rob Nichols noted that his squad gave their full effort, but lost their composure at times.
"We played hard, but we lost our composure late in the game," he said. "That is something we usually don't do and will have to take care of."
Nichols pointed out that Bernie's defense caused his team to take bad shots.
"We had very poor shot selection tonight," he said. "Very good defense on Bernie's part forced us to take bad shots. Our hat's off to Bernie."
Bernie was an astounding 20-24 from the free throw line in the semifinal game.
"That is the mark of a great basketball team," Nichols simply stated in regards to Bernie's free throws.
Ball control gave Nichols team troubles Monday night, but the coach is not sure that Bernie could have been beaten by anyone the way they played Monday night.
"We did not catch the ball well," he said. "We missed layups and fumbled the ball on breakaways. Bernie played very physical and very intense defense. Bernie played so well tonight, I'm not sure even if we would have played well that we would have beat them tonight."
Dexter will face Twin Rivers in the third place game at 7 p.m. and Bernie will take on the undefeated Portageville Bulldogs in the championship at 8:30 p.m.
The host Bloomfield Wildcats won a physical contest against the Puxico Indians 79-61 to advance to the fifth place championship game this evening.
The game was nip-and-tuck through most of the first half with the Wildcats holding a slight 33-31 halftime advantage. Bloomfield extended their lead in the third quarter before breaking the game open in the fourth quarter, when they hit 9-of-11 free throws to seal the game.
Leighton Hensley led the Wildcats with 18 points and Corey Smith chipped in 15. Derrick Caldwell and Blake Harris added 12 and 11 respectively.
Puxico's John Smith led all scorers with 22 while Travis Stuart scored 12 and Cody Russom had 10.
The upstart Van Buren Bulldogs defeated Richland 65-50 to move into the fifth place championship game tonight. The Bulldogs, seeded 14th, stretched a one-point first quarter to 29-22 at the half and never looked back.
Van Buren was led in scoring by Nathan Dazey's 16 points while Daniel Newberry scored 10. Tyler Freeze scored 6 points to go along with his 10 assists.
Richland was led in scoring by Ryan Kleffer's 18. Drew Thornton put in 12.
The Hayti Indians advanced to the consolation championship with a 60-54 win over South Pemiscot Monday afternoon.
South Pemiscot's Bruce Smith scored with 1:30 left in the game to tie the game at 53, but Hayti, sparked by Doriyon West and Keenan Williams, went on a 7-1 surge to end the game.
West led all Hayti scorers with 14 points while Williams and Denzel Presberry scored 12 and 11 respectively. The Indians hit 15-26 free throws while South Pemiscot was just 5-8 from the charity stripe. The Bulldogs were led in scoring by Tyler Thompson's 17. Smith added 14 and Cameron Lincks chipped in 10 points.
The Doniphan Dons also advanced to consolation championship with a 65-49 win. Doniphan never trailed in the game, however, Malden cut the lead to 23-22 midway through the second quarter after a 3-pointer from Travis Gregory. The Dons finished the quarter on a 13-2 run and were never challenged again.