POPLAR BLUFF -- The Risco Tigers know what they are up against.
They know their opponent has the talent and they know they have the experience, past or present, to do what they have done so many times before.
"You have to respect them," Risco head coach Brandon Blankenship said. "They've been No. 1 all year long and they have two Division 1 type players on their team. They have the history and they've been in this situation many, many times before. Even as a school and these particular kids."
The Tigers know that their quarterfinal game against the Scott County Central Braves will be one of the toughest obstacles for them to overcome. Some may say it will be too tough for them but, both teams know the game still has to be played.
"If a team gets hot this time of year, they can do anything," Scott County Central head coach Kenyon Wright said. "I've been a victim of that myself."
During his senior year as a Bell City Cub, Wright suffered a loss to the Clarkton Reindeer during the 2003 Class 1 Sectional round. Like most are saying about the upcoming SCC-Risco game, that too was a game that the Cubs were supposed to win.
"I know first hand that anything can happen this time of year," Wright said. "Match-ups are different here and there. On a given night, all that matters is who comes out on top."
Risco knows that not only will they have to play nearly perfect basketball to have a chance, they also know things might have to happen on the other side as well.
"If Otto (Porter) or Bobby (Hatchett), either one, was out of the game for foul trouble or whatever reason it would obviously make a huge impact on another team's chances," said Blankenship. "I know the rest of their guys would step up, but those two guys do so much for them and they mean so much for them.
"Our kids just have to play with confidence. They have to believe that we're supposed to be in this position and we've got some good ball players on our team. We've got guys that can come out and hit some shots."
Risco has had quite a run in their last two games just to get into this position. A thrilling one-point win over the No. 1 seed North Pemiscot Mustangs gave them their first district title in 16 years. Their 70-63 victory over Dora in sectionals was the Tigers' first playoff win in school history.
"It's big for us just to be here," Blankenship said. "We're happy to be where we're at. We want to enjoy the moment and play as hard as we can possibly play. That's all you can do anytime."
"They beat two pretty good ball clubs to get where they've got," said Wright.
Possibly slowing the Braves down will be a task better said than done. The blur that is Scott Central on the court likes to run the floor more than any team. And why wouldn't they? The lightning quick guard Bobby Hatchett, who averages 23 points and seven assists per game, uses those abilities to slice and dice most transition defenses. Adding to that, the 6-8 Otto Porter gets up and down the floor just as well. Porter leads the Braves with 28 points and 14 rebounds per game.
Although they themselves like to run the floor, the Tigers know a fast-pace, run-and-gun style would not play into their hands.
"I don't think a game in the 80's or 90's would be in our favor at all," said Blankenship. "We're going to try and slow it down. Our young kids like to push when they can and we like to get out and run. But, I think you play into their hands when you [push it]. We are going to try and be a little more deliberate trying to break the press.
"It's kind of like football -- time of possession. The more time you have the ball in you possession, they less they're going down and scoring. A game in the 60's and 70's would be much more where we would need the game to be."
Simulating the quickness of the Braves is just as hard as coming up with a gameplan to stop them. The Tigers have been throwing six to seven guys on defense during their recent practices but due to their arrangements at Risco High School, that seems to be doing more harm than good.
"We've put six and seven guys on defense but, your still not simulating their quickness. It just seems to be a little cluttered," Blankenship joked. "Especially on our small court."
Risco will be relying on the senior duo of Zack Williams and Brandon Bennett. The 6-0 Bennett leads the team with 16.7 points per game. the 6-4 Williams adds 15.6 points a game as well as a team leading 8.4 rebounds a game.
"They've got some quickness," Wright said about the Tigers. "They shoot the ball well and they've had nights where their kids would hit six or seven three's. They got some kids that can shoot it and they have their big kid in the middle. They're a tough ball team."
The Tigers may know that their days are numbered. They may know that the odds are not in their favor. But, they also know a win against the mighty Scott Central Braves may be bigger than winning a state championship.
"To beat Scott Central would be bigger than winning a state title," Blankenship said. "To be honest, other teams in the state might disagree and have something to say about this but, if we could beat Scott Central I would think we would win state. We would be riding so high from that win that I don't think anyone would be able to stop us from that point."
Risco will have their chance on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff.
* Record: 17-10
* Coach: Brandon Blankenship
* Key players: Brandon Bennett, 6-0, sr.; 16.7 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game. Zack Williams, 6-4, sr.; 15.6 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game. Chris Pavy, 5-10, soph.; 12.2 points per game in 14 full varsity games, 2.3 assists per game.
ABOUT Scott County Central
* Record: 26-2
* Coach: Kenyon Wright
* Key players: Otto Porter, 6-8, jr.; 28 points per game, 14 rebounds a game and four steals a game. Bobby Hatchett, 5-11, sr.; 23 points per game, seven assists and six steals per game. Dominique Porter, 5-7, soph.; nine points a game.