(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
DEXTER -- For the third time in the last four years the Dexter Bearcats have claimed the Stoddard County Activities Association Tournament championship.
Taking on the Bernie Mules for the title game for the third straight time on Friday, the defending champion Bearcats were able to pull ahead by 10-points at the half and hold on for a 54-40 final.
"We jumped out early," Dexter coach Ron Nichols said. "I fully expected Bernie to make a run and it be tight at the end because it's been a long time since Dexter and Bernie played a game that didn't come down to the wire.
"We were expecting that run, but luckily we were able to maintain that lead tonight."
Taking advantage of a first half where the Mules shot only 32 percent form the field, the Bearcats opened the game up on a 7-2 run and pushed ahead by as many as 15-points late in the second quarter.
After scoring five-straight in the final 2:46 of the half to head into the locker down 10, Bernie ended a tightly contested third quarter with a putback at the buzzer by Bubby Schwent to enter the fourth trailing by nine.
Hitting only one of their first eight shots in the fourth, the Mules allowed Dexter to once again push their lead back into the double-digits as they opened the final frame on a 6-0 run.
Though a pair of free throws by Sam Turner and a bucket by David Baker closed Bernie back within 11 with 4:44 to play, the Mules were limited to only one more basket the rest of the way.
"Dexter really brought the energy and intensity that we hoped to have," Bernie coach Brad Botsch said. "They just came at us, we backed down from it and never did fight back much, especially in the first half.
"We really struggled scoring and that's a credit to their defense. We were just on our heels all night."
Leading the Bearcats, who shot 21 of 46 from the field (46 percent), was Jake Lee with 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting. He also collected 11 rebounds and two steals.
Young was second on the team with 10 points, two rebounds and three steals.
"We knew that Bernie wanted to give it to us a little bit, knowing that we beat them last year and everything," Lee said. "This is my senior year and I just wanted to give it my all and go out with a bang."
For Bernie Baker and Matt Eaves had 11 points each with Sam Turner adding 10 to the Mules cause.
Earlier in the night it was Advance claiming third place in the tournament when Lane Below hit a buzzer-beater to hold off a Bloomfield comeback 56-54.
After the championship game the all-tournament team was announced with Lee, Young and Tyler Miller from Dexter all making the cut. Also making the team was Baker and Eaves from Bernie along with Richard Forshee of Richland.
Other locals on the roster include Zach Pounds and Adam Vandiver of Bloomfield.
DEXTER (54) -- Chase Young 10, Tyler Miller 3, Jordan Fitts 7, D.J. Dowdy 4, Brad Potts 6, Jake Lee 16, Cody Neldon 8. FG 21, FT 10-16, F 19. (3-pointers: Young 1, Miller 1. Fouled out: Lee.)
BERNIE (40) -- Landon Woods 4, Bubby Schwent 11, David Baker 11, Sam Turner 10, Marquise Meekie 4. FG 12, FT 16-21, F 13. (3-pointers: none. Fouled out: none.)