(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
COLUMBIA -- Perfection.
It's one thing to win the school's first-ever state championship in basketball, but to do it without a single loss throughout the season -- that's just priceless.
The Sikeston Bulldogs will be inducted into the Missouri Hall of Fame by finishing 30-0 on the season after a 74-55 victory over longtime nemesis St. Francis Borgia in the Class 4 state championship game on Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.
"It's truly special," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "These players have really worked hard to get to this point and to win a state championship is a great reward for their dedication. To do it with an undefeated record is even more impressive for these guys."
For three of the past five seasons, Borgia (21-9) has been a thorn in Sikeston's side, defeating the Bulldogs in the state championship game in 2006 and also in the quarterfinals the past two seasons.
"We just have a lot of respect for their program," Holifield said of Borgia. "We focus on trying to get to a level to compete with them every day in practice. We really look at them as the elite program."
Longtime Borgia coach Dave Neier said this year's Sikeston team had all the right pieces to win it all.
"I think they're always a tremendous team -- they're a well-coached team," Neier said. "But this year I think they played with a little bit more confidence. I think having that undefeated year kind of really pushed them and I think they were on a mission. Just the fact that we knocked them out two years in a row in that quarterfinal game, they were looking for a way to get over the hump. Mentally they were ready right from the beginning."
With a lethal inside-outside combination, Sikeston beat Borgia at its own game.
The Bulldogs canned six 3-pointers in the first half and also scored 38 points in the paint.
"They really got the momentum early," Neier said. "We hit the first basket, but after that they just got things going. They scrapped and pushed everything they could. And this year they hit so well outside early and that made it tough. We weren't getting to their shooters so we had to spread out more."
Borgia's 6-foot-6 senior Ben Ruether hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the game, but Sikeston went on a 10-0 run to secure the lead.
Very quickly Sikeston had extended the lead to double figures at 17-7, forcing Borgia to burn its first timeout.
The Bulldogs hit four 3-pointers in the opening period, were subbing freely and established the up-tempo pace that they prefer.
Sikeston's formula, which had worked so well in 29 games prior, was working yet again.
"In the past it always seemed like in the first quarter we were down to them," Holifield said. "This year we were up to them. I thought we set the tempo early, which allows us to play our game. I thought we stretched their defense with perimeter shooting. Once they were able to get out on shooters we were able to get it inside to our post players."
Sikeston led 22-10 after one quarter of play and continued its surge in the second quarter, forcing Borgia turnovers with intense pressure defense and forcing hurried and very deep shots by the Knights.
"They play that two-guard front on the press and you could tell we struggled just a little bit," Borgia guard Bryce Dolan said. "They're just so athletic and it's tough to get in a flow when someone's in your face. You really got to give it up to them. They're well-coached obviously and their guards are extremely quick. They made it tough for us today."
With the Borgia defense having to extend out to Sikeston's perimeter shooters, the inside opened up for Bulldog senior Corey Porter, who began to completely take over the game.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, the 6-2, 290-pounder scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the middle two quarters, including going 8-for-8 from the free throw line. He also had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"Corey Porter, unbelievable game -- holy cow," Neier said. "He was a big difference in the game. They had great shooters outside and with his ability inside, he just did a tremendous job of getting position, and not only that, but finding a way to get the ball up to the bucket. Even when he gets fouled the ball was going in for him."
The Bulldogs led by as much as 39-19 with 50 seconds to go after Porter sank three free throws on a fouled 3-point attempt.
Borgia appeared to have gained a momentum swing in the next couple possessions as Dolan drained a 3-pointer and then got a steal and layup with 10 seconds left.
But Sikeston quickly pushed the ball up the floor and found Will Holifield, who buried his fourth 3-pointer of the half with four seconds left, sending the Bulldogs into the locker room with a 42-24 lead.
"That was a big, big shot before the half," Holifield said of his son's 3-pointer. "We needed that one."
In the first half, Sikeston was 6-10 from 3-point range and had forced nine Borgia turnovers.
"I think we were too passive in the first half," Neier said. "They pushed us so far out from the basket and that's something that we should have remedied a little bit earlier. Some of the things that made us successful (during our winning streak) didn't work against Sikeston. It took us a while to change up what we were doing and by that time we were pretty much out of the ballgame. I was trying to wait till the second half to change, but Sikeston kept mounting more points on the scoreboard and got too far ahead of us."
In the third quarter, Borgia began to chip away at Sikeston's lead.
The Knights began forcing turnovers off a half-court trap as Sikeston had eight turnovers in the third quarter alone.
Borgia eventually managed to cut the lead to 52-44 with 1:39 left in the third quarter, but Porter once again put the team on his back, scoring five straight points to keep the Knights at bay with a 57-46 lead heading into the fourth.
"I knew this was probably going to be my last time being able to participate in basketball in a team-organized manner," Porter said. "I just wanted to lay my heart out there on the court."
At the start of the fourth quarter, Ruether once again cut the lead to eight points with a 3-pointer, but that was as close as they would get.
"Throughout the entire second half I kept wanting that clock to hurry up and run because I knew they would keep coming at you and coming at you," Holifield said.
Sikeston's relentlessness may have began to finally take its effect as the Knights misfired on their final seven 3-point attempts of the game. Sikeston also forced six more turnovers in the fourth quarter.
After Ruether's opening 3-pointer, Sikeston went on an 8-0 run to essentially seal the game.
Borgia scored its final basket of the game with 2:53 left to cut the lead to 67-55. The Bulldogs scored the game's final seven points to reach the final margin.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Bulldog players stormed onto the court in a wild celebration.
It was truly special for seniors Janeil Hatchett, Darryl Howard, Holifield and Porter -- the latter two of which were managers on the Bulldogs 2006 team that reached the state title game.
"After that 2006 team made it, we said one day we were going to be here," Holifield said. "It's just amazing that it's finally come true."
Holifield scored all 14 of his points in the first half, including connecting on his first four 3-pointers.
Hatchett finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Howard added nine points.
Sikeston's four seniors finished with a three-year varsity record of 75-8.
"It's just a great group of seniors," Holifield said. "They've been together for a long time. They've played a lot of basketball games and won a lot of basketball games together. It's going to be difficult to replace them. They bring so much hard work, energy and effort to our program, on the court and off the court."
Junior Eldridge Gibson came off the bench to score eight points with three steals in just nine minutes of action.
"Congratulations to Sikeston, I think they're a great champion," Neier said. "Obviously they deserve it, there was a reason why they were undefeated and they showed it tonight. They played an exceptional game, they have a great program and an exceptional coach."
With a couple minutes left, the Bulldogs began to run the clock and Sikeston's enormous contingent of fans could sense that victory was at hand.
"We had a nice crowd," Holifield said. "When I walked out and I saw that, I thought we may have shut the town down. We had a large crowd."
Porter said, "We definitely get the best fan support in the state. It just helps us. We're confident going in that game. That allows us to build momentum up. One basket, go crazy. Two baskets, go nuts. Then three -- it's just a chain reaction and the crowd keeps building and building off that."
Sikeston's crowd even out-numbered Borgia, also known for bringing large numbers of fans.
"It has to be one of the best crowds ever at a championship game," Neier said. "A lot of enthusiasm on both sides."
Ruether led Borgia with 16 points. Dolan followed up with 14 points, including four 3-pointers.
After missing on their final seven 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter, the Knights finished just 8-of-26 from 3-point range.
Sikeston out-rebounded Borgia, despite the presence of the 6-6 Ruether and 6-foot-8 center Jacob Martin, 30-23.
Heading into post-season play, Sikeston always had Borgia in the back of their minds even though the Knights were not favored to make it to the Show-Me Showdown this season.
"They're a team to always keep an eye on, especially when they're the ones that are beating you every year to keep you from that next step," Porter said. "Their record didn't really show for how talented they were. That's why I think teams overlooked them. Well, we've lost too many times to overlook Borgia."
Holifield interrupted, "That was never gonna happen."
|St. Francis Borgia||10||14||22||9||--||55|
BORGIA (55) -- Ben Ruether 16, Bryce Dolan 14, Drew Kimminau 9, Nathan Rogers 9, Evan Johnson 5, Jacob Martin 2. FG 11, FT 9-15, F 14. (3-pointers: Dolan 4, Ruether 3, Johnson 1. Fouled out: none).
SIKESTON (74) -- Corey Porter 24, Will Holifield 14, Janeil Hatchett 13, Darryl Howard 9, Eldridge Gibson 8, Vashawn Ruffin 3, Terry Jamison 3. FG 22, FT 12-19, F 12. (3-pointers: Holifield 4, Jamison 1, Ruffin 1. Fouled out: none).