KENNETT -- For the past seven years, the Class 4, District 1 tournament has gone through Sikeston and Notre Dame as the two have met in the championship game every year since 2006.
With a reclassification this year, Kennett may have officially announced its presence among area Class 4 district opponents.
The Indians came up short, but they gave Sikeston its toughest battle this year by a district foe in an 84-80 loss at Kennett High School on homecoming night.
The Bulldogs (15-1) have not lost to Kennett since 2004, winning nine straight in that span.
But this time it took a stellar shooting night from the perimeter by the Bulldogs to hold off the athletic and rangy Indian squad as Kennett repeatedly sliced through Sikeston's defense throughout the game.
It's the most points Sikeston has given up since an 86-85 victory over Scott County Central in 2009.
"I thought we came out and played a quality team tonight that worked really hard and did a lot of great things," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "They took us out of what we normally do and played with great intensity. But it's games like this that will help us get better. We understand that we didn't play well in certain situations. Hopefully we'll learn and grow from that."
With a packed house on hand and a raucous crowd hungry for an upset of the top-ranked Class 4 Bulldogs, the inspired Indians matched Sikeston blow-for-blow for most of the night, but it was the visitors' clutch shooting that proved to be the difference.
"No moral victories tonight," Kennett coach Jim Vaughan said. "We wanted to go out and attack this thing right away. Just a couple things here or there and we could have come out of this thing with a win. What we did do tonight is we proved to ourselves that we are that caliber. That's a step in the right direction at this time of the year."
The fourth quarter was a tight battle.
Sikeston led the whole way, but not without numerous runs by the Indians, getting as close as one point once and as close as two points four different times.
But each time Sikeston stepped up and drained big shots.
"I think our players have been in a lot of big-game situations," Holifield said. "Kennett's atmosphere tonight was as good as it gets. I mean their fans were into the game. We had a great crowd there, too. I thought both teams played with great intensity and played hard and played tough. We had players step up in big situations and hit big shots. That's a positive that we can look at. But we've got to get better in a lot of ways because we ran into a team tonight that really played hard, played with great intensity and played well together."
Kennett's last chance came when freshman Akeem Nelson hit 1 of 2 free throws to cut Sikeston's lead to 79-77 with 1:15 left in the game.
But Sikeston's J.T. Jones, on the ensuing trip, hit a floater in the paint to push the lead to four.
Markeith Bratcher then stole a pass and fed Vashawn Ruffin for a layup to extend the lead to 83-77 with 38 seconds left.
Kennett (10-5) wouldn't get any closer than the final score the rest of the way.
"We feel like we should have won that game," Vaughan said. "Some things didn't go as they needed to for us. But what we do take out of this, hopefully now we are so hungry to be better every practice."
The Indians started the game hot, taking an early 9-4 lead, but Sikeston quickly tied it on Jairius Ray's banked-in 3-pointer and layup.
Ruffin then heated up, draining 3-pointers on three successive trips to complete a 14-0 run by the Bulldogs to lead 18-9 with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
It was the beginning of a big scoring night for Ruffin, who finished with a season-high 25 points, going 7 of 13 from 3-point range. The seven 3-pointers is the second most in a game by a Sikeston player ever, falling one short of Will Holifield's record of eight set in 2009.
Ruffin added eight assists, five rebounds and four steals in the game.
"The kid is so silky smooth," Vaughan said of Ruffin. "He shoots it well. Pure. About as quality as you're going to find out of a high school kid. The only thing he doesn't have is being 6'4" and being able to shoot over that next big-time player. We didn't want him breaking us down, but sometimes not allowing him to break us down gives him a little bit of space and he got shots off."
The Bulldogs built a 22-13 lead on a Reese Porter basket but Harold Weeden hit a long 2-point shot at the buzzer to cut the lead to seven by the end of the quarter.
Kennett began making a comeback in the second quarter as Sikeston got in foul trouble, most notably by Jones, the Bulldogs' leading scorer and rebounder.
With Jones on the bench, Kennett's Antonio Primer went to work, scoring nine points in the second quarter. The 6-foot-4 senior finished the game with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
"We went at (Jones) early and got him in foul trouble -- he got two early ones," Vaughan said. "A little less floor time helped contain his offense. That's a credit to our kids that we went after a player of his caliber."
The Indians were able to trim the lead to 36-35 by halftime, despite Ruffin's five 3-pointers, but Jones was limited to two points in the half.
The third quarter remained tight.
Kennett managed to take the lead twice in the period but couldn't extend it past one point.
Sikeston closed the quarter with a flurry in a matter of a few seconds, with back-to-back baskets by Ray and a steal and basket by Bratcher to lead 56-50 heading into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, Jones took over, scoring 12 of his 16 points. He also had 11 rebounds and five assists in the game.
Bratcher scored 10 of his season-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, including two back-breaking 3-pointers to thwart Kennett rallies.
Jones and Bratcher helped offset Kennett's Kevonte Mitchell, who had 14 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter. He was 9 for 10 from the free throw line and finished with nine rebounds and three steals.
The freshman Nelson finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals.
The Bulldogs shot 12 of 33 (36 percent) from 3-point range in the game. They shot 33 of 75 (44 percent) overall from the field.
"They were giving us a lot of perimeter shots," Holifield said. "Fortunately we knocked down several 3's which allowed us to sustain and maintain a lead."
Sikeston out-rebounded the Indians 45 to 41.
Sikeston had 19 assists compared to 21 turnovers.
Porter added 11 points with nine rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Kennett was 0 for 5 from 3-point range and shot 31 of 68 (46 percent) overall from the field.
"That has been an Achilles for us," Vaughan said of his team's 3-point shooting. "With Sikeston's pressure, if you get past the first wave and not let them catch up to you and get the ball to the middle, then you can attack. And I thought our kids were awfully hungry to do that tonight."
Kennett finished with 17 turnovers and 20 assists.
"They were really attacking and they were aggressive in what they were doing and we were not as aggressive and didn't guard as well as we normally do," Holifield said. "But you have to give them credit. They have an outstanding player in Mitchell and they had a great effort tonight. I'm just proud of our players for staying on course and getting a tough road win at a difficult place to play."
Sikeston will have just its second home game since Dec. 14 when they host Jackson on Tuesday.
SIKESTON (84) -- Vashawn Ruffin 25, Markeith Bratcher 21, J.T. Jones 16, Reese Porter 11, Jairius Ray 9, Zach Jackson 2. FG 21, FT 6-11, F 23. (3-pointers: Ruffin 7, Bratcher 3, Jones 1, Ray 1. Fouled out: none).
KENNETT (80) -- Kevonte Mitchell 31, Antonio Primer 19, Akeem Nelson 11, Harold Weeden 10, Collin Smith 5, Rantrell Caruthers 2, Materion Jones 2. FG 31, FT 18-25, F 12. (3-pointers: none. Fouled out: none).
The Sikeston J.V. team improved to 9-2 on the season with a 69-38 win over Kennett.
The Bulldogs only led 29-21 at the half but out-scored the Indians 40-17 in the second half.
Sikeston was led by Chris Scott's 20 points, six rebounds and four steals.
Zach Jackson added 10 points with four steals.
The Bulldogs forced 30 turnovers on the Indians.
Kennett was led by Michael Richmond's 10 points.
SIKESTON (69) -- Chris Scott 20, Zach Jackson 10, Zach Harrison 9, Ja'lon Marr 8, Jaylen Mallory 5, Cedric McIntyre 4, Earnest Fobbs 4, Marquese Parks 3, Dantrell Brown 2, Luke Williams 2, Dominique Dyes 2. FG 24, FT 6-10, F 11. (3-pointers: Scott 2, Mallory 1, Parks 1, Harrison 1. Fouled out: none).
KENNETT (38) -- Michael Richmond 10, Fred Gooden 9, Andre Oliver 7, Carlos Turner 5, Rantrell Caruthers 5, Tom Edgington 2. FG 9, FT 5-12, F 7. (3-pointers: Gooden 3, Caruthers 1, Oliver 1. Fouled out: none).