(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It's a rivalry that has dominated the 2010-11 high school sports season. First, through football and now basketball.
Tonight, the top-ranked Sikeston Bulldogs and the Cape Central Tigers will renew one of the area's most intense rivalries at the Sikeston Field House for a chance at gaining the upper hand in the SEMO Conference standings.
"Through football and basketball, we've both had good teams," Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield said. "We're towns that are close by so, it's a natural rivalry through all of our sports. It makes it interesting. I think it helps the area."
Although the Bulldogs, who are undefeated with 20 wins and are the top-ranked team in Class 4, hold the season's edge with a 76-55 win that captured their third-straight SEMO Conference Tournament championship in Dec., Sikeston will be facing a new-look Tigers team after the second semester addition of Curtis Branch.
Branch, a 5-10 senior guard, is averaging 14.8 points a game since joining Cape Central following the Christmas break. He has played in nine games and has helped the Tigers win their last 10.
Branch gives Cape Central a true point guard. He not only distributes the ball to his teammates with the slightest of ease, but he is also another deep threat for the Tigers who already feature hot-handed senior Andrew Williams.
"I've seen him play three times and he has really impressed me all three times," Holifield said about Branch. "He handles the ball very well. I think he does a good job of controlling tempo, he passes it well and he shoots it well.
"From those perspectives, it's going to be difficult to contain him and the rest of the team. He makes every player around him better, I feel."
In their first meeting during the SEMO Conference Tournament, the TIgers (17-3) slowed the tempo, successfully overcame Sikeston's ferocious pressure defense and worked the ball around with the intent of keeping the lightning-quick Bulldogs from scoring in transition.
That tactic worked for the first half, leaving the Bulldogs glaring up at a 30-26 deficit at halftime. However, Sikeston senior Will Holifield answered with four 3-pointers in the third quarter which sparked an 18-3 run and a 56-44 lead heading into the fourth quarter and, eventually, it led to the win.
The Tigers will no doubt try to control the game speed again. Only this time, Branch will play a key part in limiting turnovers.
"They play a certain way and I think they will (try to slow the tempo)" Holifield said. "With Curtis, it really gives them a solid ball handler, which will help them even more so to control tempo offensively."
Alongside Branch, the overall size of Cape Central may create problems as well. The Tigers feature T.J. Tisdale (6-5), James Lane (6-5) and Zach Boerboom (6-6). All play a big role in their inside-first offense.
"They've gotten their point guard and I feel like they're an outstanding team," said Holifield. "They create many problems for us with their size and (Branch's) ability to handle the basketball.
"I think he makes them a complete team. With him, they've just become a very good team."
Sikeston (20-0) will look to continue to run the floor and wear the opposition down with a roster that can go nine to 10 players deep. Although, the Bulldogs are going into the contest having played just two games in two weeks due to inclement weather -- a 71-26 win over Poplar Bluff on Feb. 4 and a 95-68 victory over Caruthersville on Jan. 28.
"That's been difficult," Holifield said about their lack of games. "We've had opportunities to practice and we've stayed sharp, but not being able to play games like we normally would I think maybe you'll see a little rust early but hopefully we'll be able to play through that."
The Sikeston-Cape Central matchup will begin soon after the junior varsity contest which will start at 6 p.m.