(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Despite being the defending state champions, three-time defending district champs and following that up with an impressive regular season run this year, the Sikeston Bulldogs still received the No. 2 seed in the Class 4, District 1 Tournament.
And they didn't like it.
Feeling disrespected coming into the tournament, the Bulldogs channeled that anger and took it out on their district opponents, first taking out Perryville 82-55 in the semifinals on Tuesday, and then culminating with a 74-46 thrashing over top-seeded Notre Dame in the championship game on Friday in front of a jam-packed Field House.
It's Sikeston's fourth straight district championship and the school's 21st overall.
The Bulldogs (22-4) move on to the Class 4 Sectional round where they will play DeSoto on Wednesday night at 7:45 at Mineral Area College.
"It's amazing -- it's been such a surreal experience," Sikeston senior Caleb McGee said. "We come out and just worked our butts off every day. We had a little lull early in the season and lost a few games, but just to come back and finish this off on our home court is a great win for us. But we're not through yet."
Notre Dame (20-7) came in with a strong pedigree themselves, including a 62-54 win over Sikeston in December, but the Bulldogs began playing their best basketball following Christmas, stringing together numerous impressive victories.
"Our kids have had a great second half of the season," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "Other than the third quarter against Cape, I thought we played very well. They've really worked hard to get to this point, but we know we have to continue on and we've got to work to get to another level by Wednesday night."
But the driving force behind Friday's victory, and the unanimous theme among the players, was earning respect.
"We felt disrespected a whole lot, so we just had to come out here and prove everybody wrong," Sikeston junior Vashawn Ruffin said.
McGee added, "Coming off a state championship, a 30-0 season last year, we were extremely disrespected this year. We lost our top five scorers, but I thought our guys came out and showed incredible heart. This is one of those wins that feels nice to the core. We were doubted. We were disrespected. And to come out and beat them emphatically was amazing."
The two Bulldog squads came out of the gates trading early blows as the lead changed hands five times in the first quarter. With the score tied 12-12, Markeith Bratcher drained a 3-pointer and Keldon Warfield scored on an offensive putback to give Sikeston a 17-12 lead after one.
"We were just in attack mode from the get-go," McGee said. "We came out and our intensity was just on another level. (Notre Dame is) a great team, nothing against them -- they play hard and do everything right, but we came out and we were a different level tonight."
The flurry to end the first quarter sparked a 17-4 run by Sikeston that helped them open up a 29-16 lead after Ruffin's second 3-pointer of the quarter with 3:56 left in the half.
Notre Dame briefly limited the damage on back-to-back 3-pointers by Jonathan Lynch to cut the lead to 31-24, but that was as close as they would get.
Kil'Ron Coleman scored a layup and Sikeston got a defensive stop to end the half with a 33-24 lead.
"They get after you and they get up in you and they force turnovers," Notre Dame head coach Kevin Roberts said. "The thing that they did tonight that I haven't seen them do all year is make shots. Not just one guy or two guys, but every one of them were making shots. They were impressive, you've got to tip your hat to them."
Sikeston came out in the third quarter and put the game away.
The lead swelled to 50-30 on a floater in the paint by McGee.
The quarter was capped by McGee's kick to the corner for a wide open Ruffin 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give Sikeston a 55-34 lead, erupting the huge Bulldog crowd in applause.
The Bulldogs put the game away with a 19-12 advantage in the fourth quarter.
"Nothing surprises me with them," Roberts said of Sikeston. "Gregg does a tremendous job and I've seen them for the last eight years do that. So nothing surprises me. It came down to execution. They wanted to play up-tempo and we didn't. They dictated the pace and we didn't match their intensity. When you fall behind, especially here, it's hard to catch up."
Sikeston was led in scoring by Ruffin's 21 points, including seven rebounds.
McGee followed up with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Warfield scored 12 points with eight rebounds and J.T. Jones added nine points with six rebounds and four steals.
Coleman had five points and four assists and Bratcher knocked down two 3-pointers.
"It was just teamwork -- nobody is selfish," Sikeston senior Terry Jamison said. "Everybody just plays together, we stick together, and we win together. We had seniors step up and we had Vashawn, J.T., Kyland (Gross), Cord (Sheehy), Markeith step up and we play as a team."
Jamison only scored two points, but he may have controlled the game more than any single player on the court as he led the team with 10 rebounds and nine assists.
"They have a tremendous group of kids, but without Terry Jamison I don't know if they are as good as they are," Roberts said. "He's their best player in my opinion. He's absolutely awesome. Defensively, offensively, controlling the game, picking spots to attack. He settles them down. I'm so impressed by him, I really am."
Notre Dame was led by Nathan Meystedt's 17 points. No other player reached double figures for the Bulldogs.
"The second half they took away that high post," Roberts said. "That was our goal, to get it there. But we didn't control the tempo like we did in December. We made them play our game, but tonight they made us play their game. We got up and down the floor way too much. We needed to keep this game low scoring and they forced us into a lot of turnovers."
Sikeston out-rebounded Notre Dame by a whopping margin of 35-15 and they forced 16 turnovers.
Sikeston made 7-of-15 from 3-point range compared to just 5-of-19 shooting from beyond the arc by Notre Dame.
The Bulldogs had 19 assists to 11 turnovers.
"We come more as a team every day," Ruffin said. "Every day in practice we go hard. That's the key to it."
The game marked the seventh straight time Sikeston and Notre Dame have squared off for the district title, meeting every year since 2006.
"I can't say enough about our kids," Holifield said. "They've worked hard and they've bought into our system. Sometimes people may doubt our system, but it's been great for us and our kids believe in what we do. I just love the effort they give me every day. Notre Dame has a great program and we have a lot of respect for them. There's no doubt every time we play them it's so difficult, as you saw in December. Fortunately tonight it worked out well for us and I credit our seniors and just the entire team. It's a total team effort."
SIKESTON (74) -- Vashawn Ruffin 21, Caleb McGee 19, Keldon Warfield 12, J.T. Jones 9, Markeith Bratcher 6, Kil'Ron Coleman 5, Terry Jamison 2. FG 24, FT 5-9, F 15. (3-pointers: Ruffin 3, Bratcher 2, McGee 1, Jones 1. Fouled out: none).
NOTRE DAME (46) -- Nathan Meystedt 17, Jonathan Lynch 7, Ryan Hale 6, Jordan Reddin 5, Demonte Farmer 4, Cody Heisserer 4, Quinn Poythress 3. FG 12, FT 7-11, F 12. (3-pointers: Meystedt 2, Lynch 2, Poythress 1. Fouled out: none).