(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
CAPE GIRARDEAU -- Sikeston and Charleston have had many epic battles over the years, but never before have they met on the biggest stage in southeast Missouri.
Both schools took to the court at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau on Thursday in what was billed as "The Rivalry" in a crucial SEMO Conference matchup.
In front of an announced crowd of 3,669 fans, Sikeston held off its arch-rival 71-64 to take sole possession of first place in the conference.
The Bulldogs, winners of seven of the last nine meetings with Charleston, controlled the game from the opening tip and were able to hold off a furious rally by the Bluejays in the closing minutes.
Sikeston has had the Bluejays' number recently, which is something Bulldog head coach Gregg Holifield is well aware of.
"We take a lot of pride in that," Holifield said. "We have a great deal of respect for their program and our players do as well. It's exciting for us. We really respect coach (Danny) Farmer and his program and we know how difficult they are to play against. I'm just really proud of our kids for stepping up."
Sikeston (18-1, 4-0 SEMO Conference) have been ranked No. 1 in Class 4 all season long while Charleston (19-3, 4-1 SEMO) entered the game as the No. 2-ranked team in Class 3.
The Bluejays owed one of its two losses to the Bulldogs in the championship game of the SEMO Conference Tournament in December, 71-61.
It was a powerhouse matchup that had all the makings of being an instant classic.
But the Bulldogs had other plans as they took charge early and led by double figures through most of the game.
After Sikeston took a double-digit lead in the first quarter, Charleston was only able to get it under double figures just three times the rest of the night, including with less than a minute remaining.
Charleston senior Ryan Parham's uncontested layup at the final buzzer marked the closest that the Bluejays would get.
"They just out-matched us physically," Parham said. "They're a good competitive team. They just out-toughed us and out-hustled us on the boards and we got beat."
Sikeston started the game on fire, taking an 11-2 lead after a Markeith Bratcher 3-pointer at the 4:30 mark.
The first quarter was highlighted by Bratcher's buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the right corner to give his team a 26-15 lead.
It was the beginning of Bratcher's big night as he finished with a game-high 20 points, knocking down 5 of 8 3-pointers to go with his three steals.
"He had some open looks and I thought he really played well," Holifield said of Bratcher.
The Bulldogs continued to roll in the second quarter.
After Charleston's Darrion Carter cut the lead to 32-21, Bratcher answered with another timely 3-pointer.
Then Sikeston's Kyland Gross stole the ball and hit J.T. Jones up the floor for a breakaway slam dunk to erupt the Bulldog faithful, giving his team a 37-21 lead, and then hustling back down the floor to draw a charge just 10 seconds later.
"Just like last game, every time we would make a run, (Bratcher) would hit a big 3 or somebody would get an 'and-one' -- they'd come up with some big shots," Farmer said.
Charleston did manage to get the score to 37-29 late in the second quarter, but a crucial basket by Jeterrence Harris, a 3-pointer by sophomore Zach Jackson and an inside basket by Jairius Ray gave the Bulldogs a 44-29 lead with 21 seconds left.
Charleston sophomore Delfincko Bogan hit a pull-up jumper just before the halftime buzzer to pull the Bluejays to 44-31.
The Bulldogs opened up its biggest lead of the night on a Vashawn Ruffin 3-pointer with 5:35 left in the third to go ahead 51-34.
Charleston then went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 10, only to see Bratcher hit a 3-pointer and then a pull-up jumper on consecutive trips to stop the Bluejays' momentum, yet again.
Sikeston carried a 61-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Bluejays battled and were finally able to get the lead under double-digits on a Carter basket with 3:25 left in the game at 68-59.
Jones answered with a drive down the paint for a score a minute later to extend the lead to 70-59 with just over two minutes left in the game.
A Carter free throw and two Parham free throws with 47 seconds left cut the lead to 70-62, but that was as close as they would get until his layup at the buzzer.
"Our players did a good job of composing themselves," Holifield said. "We maintained a 12 to 13-point lead. We knew they wouldn't go away. Fortunately we were able to hang on late in the game."
Ruffin finished with 14 points and four assists despite facing intense double-teaming and trapping from the Charleston defense.
"We were trying to press them, double-team Vashawn and try to pick off a pass," Farmer said. "I thought Vashawn handled it well. He was tremendous. A few times we had three guys running at him and he didn't turn the ball over. Vashawn is much-improved. He's really doing a great job. If he can dribble through our pressure then he can probably dribble through any pressure."
Jones followed up with 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists while carrying a bulk of the ball-handling duties himself.
"It was a good win," Jones said. "I'm just happy to beat them again. They're a great team and I hope for the best for them in the long run on their way to state. It was a great atmosphere. Both crowds were into the game. It feels great. They got us twice last year and we got them twice this year. It's a great feeling to beat them."
Charleston got a big game from Delfincko Bogan, who finished with 18 points with seven rebounds.
"He did a super job for a sophomore," Farmer said of Bogan. "And his brother Robert played well defensively. He helped try to wear Vashawn down and I thought he did an excellent job."
Carter followed up with 13 points for the Bluejays, who were playing without leading scorer Michael Hull.
Hull broke a bone in his foot in Tuesday's game against Jackson and is expected to miss up to six weeks.
"Mike's a big part of our offense," Parham said. "He shoots the ball well and we look forward to him knocking down open shots and we didn't have that tonight."
Farmer looked at the silver lining of Hull's absence.
"We found out one thing tonight, without Mike and Sumner (Foster) for most of the night, if we can play with the best team around then we feel we can play with just about anybody," Farmer said. "We needed to knock down a few more shots, but overall I thought we handled it well."
Foster went down late the second quarter after catching an elbow, but he returned to start the second half and showed no ill effects.
"The effort was there," Farmer said. "I was pleased with our effort. We never did give up and we kept fighting back."
Charleston finished the game with 13 turnovers and they struggled from the field against Sikeston's zone, making only 2 of 12 (17 percent) from 3-point range and they were 25 of 60 (42 percent) overall from the floor.
Sikeston finished with 18 turnovers and 17 assists, led by Gross' five dishes.
The Bulldogs made 8 of 17 (47 percent) from 3-point range and they were 30 of 53 (57 percent) overall from the field.
Sikeston out-rebounded the Bluejays 25 to 22.
"I just think we came out and played hard as a team -- we wanted to play hard all four quarters," Ruffin said. "It's always good to beat Charleston."
The game was originally scheduled to be played at Charleston High School on Jan. 4, but both schools agreed to move the highly-anticipated matchup to the Show Me Center to accommodate the expected large turnout.
Both coaches were happy with the decision, which not only helped out fans wanting to see the game, but will also be a boost to both schools' budgets.
"It was great -- a great atmosphere. I enjoyed it," Farmer said. "It's just something about the building and everybody's not on top of you. It's a great experience for us. I loved the atmosphere."
Holifield hopes to use the game, which had a playoff-type feel, to help his team moving forward this season.
"It was great for our kids to get to play in the Show Me Center," Holifield said. "Hopefully down the road in district tournament play that will help us."
Sikeston doesn't have much time to celebrate as they will play at Poplar Bluff tonight. Junior varsity action is scheduled to start at 6:00.
Charleston won't play against until next Friday when they host Portageville.
SIKESTON (71) -- Markeith Bratcher 20, Vashawn Ruffin 14, J.T. Jones 13, Reese Porter 7, Jairius Ray 6, Zach Jackson 5, Kyland Gross 4, Jeterrence Harris 2. FG 22, FT 3-7, F 19. (3-pointers: Bratcher 5, Ruffin 2, Jackson 1. Fouled out: none).
CHARLESTON (64) -- Delfincko Bogan 18, Darrion Carter 13, Shandor Webster 9, Sumner Foster 9, Ryan Parham 8, Robert Bogan 7. FG 23, FT 12-20, F 11. (3-pointers: D. Bogan 2. Fouled out: none)
Sikeston 58, Charleston 39
Sikeston's J.V. team improved to 12-2 on the season with a 58-39 win over Charleston. The Bulldogs were led by Zach Jackson's 15 points in two quarters of action. Luke Williams followed up with seven points and 11 rebounds.
Charleston was led by Tenerrious Ewing's 12 points.
SIKESTON (58) -- Zach Jackson 15, Chris Scott 7, Luke Williams 7, Dominique Dyes 6, Dantrell Brown 5, Cedric McIntyre 5, Earnest Fobbs 4, Blake Below 3, Juwon Kimble 2, Marquese Parks 2, Jaylen Mallory 2. FG 16, FT 14-26, F 23. (3-pointers: Jackson 1, Scott 1, Below 1, Brown 1. Fouled out: none).
CHARLESTON (39) -- Tenerrious Ewing 12, Jamael Nelson 7, Darron Howard 6, Jaqueles Biles 5, Christian Allen 4, Michael Coleman 3, Tyler Craig 2. FG 10, FT 16-27, F 20. (3-pointers: Nelson 1. Fouled out: Biles).