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Sunday, Sep. 14, 2014

Eye on the prize

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sikeston to play Lafayette Thursday in Class 4 semifinals

sd_sports@yahoo.com

COLUMBIA -- At this stage, every team is capable and worthy of winning two games and hoisting a trophy.

And even though they carry a spotless record and have been ranked the No. 1 team in Class 4 for countless weeks, the Sikeston Bulldogs aren't looking past anyone -- starting with the St. Joseph Lafayette Fighting Irish.

Sikeston and Lafayette will square off on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at Mizzou Arena in Columbia to open the Class 4 semifinals.

The Fighting Irish are 22-8 heading into the Show Me Showdown and feature the type of style that would counteract Sikeston's high-powered defense.

Averaging just 45.6 points per game, Lafayette prefers a slower pace. With senior guard Tim Nelson acting as floor general and bigs such as 6-5 senior Ian Toalson and 6-7 sophomore Jeff Leeson patrolling the paint, the Fighting Irish have the tools to just that.

"From what I understand, they're really a good team," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "They play great defense, do a great job of controlling the tempo, they handle the ball well and on top of that they have a really good guard and good size.

"You don't get to the level of the final four without having good guard play and a good inside presence. I think they present us problems with certain things."

Nelson leads Lafayette with 14.9 points a game as well as 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals. Both Toalson and Leeson average 8 points per contest. Toalson also averages 7.9 rebounds a game while Leeson, even though at 6-7, can step out and drain perimeter shots. He's hit 47 3-pointers on the season and has emerged as a reliable second scoring option behind Nelson.

"We've got to be able to contain their guard and force him into our tempo," said Holifield. "We have to make sure that we keep the big guys off the boards. We're definitely undersized and from that, we know we have to be able to rebound. Usually the team that controls the boards, controls the game. That will be a point of emphasis for us."

Holifield would compare the Fighting Irish to somewhat of a mix between Cape Central and Wentzville-Holt. Holt being the squad the Bulldogs knocked off for the St. Dominic Christmas Tournament title in December in one of the closest games Sikeston has been a part of this season -- a 78-68 final.

"It's hard to compare, but they have similar size to Cape Central," he said. "They have good size inside and they have quickness on the perimeter.

"Another team that we've played that I think is comparable is Holt."

Lafayette, who defeated Lincoln College Prep 53-38 to earn their first trip to state since 1976, is headed by a former Cape Girardeau Notre Dame coach -- Chris Neff. Four of Lafayette's eight losses were dealt by out-of-state teams.

If a victory against the Irish happens to be in the cards on Thursday, waiting for the Bulldogs during Saturday's championship game will either be the Soldan Tigers or the St. Francis Borgia Knights.

Soldan, who sport a 22-6 record and reached the final four last season, was ranked second in the latest state poll. The Tigers are known for their run-and-gun style, similar to Sikeston. But they have also been known to play well in the halfcourt -- a tactic that went on display during their 63-50 win over Mexico last Saturday in their quarterfinal game.

Paul McRoberts, a 6-4 junior, leads Soldan's explosive attack with a 17.4 point per game clip. Pete Sanders (5-11, Sr.) averages 15.8 points as well as 3.9 assists and 3.5 steals a game, while 6-4 juniors Randy Holmes and Devin Booker add 10.8 points and 7.8 points per game, respectively.

"Everybody I've talked to that have seen Soldan was very complimentary," Holifield said. "They made it to the final four last year so they have experience also. I've heard nothing but great things about their team."

Another potential match-up would be the Borgia Knights. A team that is all-too familiar with Sikeston.

Borgia is 20-8 on the year and is coming off a 52-42 win over the defending Class 5 state champions, Hillcrest, during their quarterfinal game last Saturday.

A team that has been a thorn in Sikeston's side to say the least during the last five years, the Knights have been able to crack the Bulldogs' assertive tempo with the exact opposite style of play.

"They're a great program," Holifield said about Borgia. "They're as good as any. They do things so well -- they shoot the basketball, handle the basketball so well. They don't beat themselves. They play their game. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their program."

Ben Reuther, a 6-6 senior, scores 14.5 points a game for Borgia all while hauling in 8.3 rebounds a game. Junior Bryce Dolan adds 13.3 points and 3.6 assists per game, while Evan Johnson and Drew Kimminau, both seniors, chip in 10.4 and 9.1 points respectively. Junior Jacob Martin, who stands at 6-8, pulls down 3.5 rebounds a game to go along with 4.5 points.