District play will begin on Saturday

Friday, February 24, 2006

"Competitive" may be the watchword as high school basketball's second season, district playoffs for Class 1, 2 and 3 teams in Southeast Missouri, open on Saturday.

With no clearly dominant team in any district, every playoff shapes up as a potential dogfight.

MALDEN -- Two of Southeast Missouri's winningest and most respected coaches, Jim Bidewell of Portageville and Lennies McFerren of NMCC, agree that their particular district -- Class 3, District 1 -- is wide open.

"Whoever's hot in the end," said Bidewell, whose No. 3-seeded Bulldogs are as hot as anybody with 12 wins in their last 14 games. "Whoever can put three games together. That's who's going to win it."

McFerren, who will likely be making his final playoff appearance as a coach, echoes Bidewell's comments.

"It's anybody's district," he said. "You can not come in there not playing your best basketball and feel that you can walk out of there with a district championship. You look at the games that were played this year (regular season) and anybody could beat anybody on a given night. If we (NMCC) can come with our "A" game, we can compete with anybody in the district."

Top-seed Doniphan gets the nod as the team to beat.

"You'd have to say Doniphan, the way they manhandled Charleston, will be the favorite," said Bidewell, "but you never know. You've got teams in there that, if you have an off night, they can beat you."

Doniphan, the No. 6-ranked team in the Missouri state Class 3 poll, backed up its 68-34 win over No. 5-ranked Charleston, with a big 75-62 win over Class 1's No. 2-ranked Bell City.

This season has been earmarked with close, competitive ball games among district rivals so McFerren, with a host of district and state titles, was asked what could be a difference maker at this stage of the season.

"I'm sticking with my old philosophy that the team that plays the best defense is going to come out a winner," he said. "At this time of the year, a lot of the teams are tired, don't feel like playing anymore, the motivation is not there and the first thing that goes is the defense. Defense will be what separates the teams that go on and those that don't."

Opening round schedule:

No. 1 Doniphan vs. No. 8 Hayti, Monday, 4 p.m.

No. 4 Malden vs. No. 5 NMCC, Monday 5:30 p.m.

No. 3 Portageville vs. No. 6 Caruthersville, Monday, 7 p.m.

No. 2 Twin Rivers vs. No. 7 Kennett, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

GREENVILLE -- Again, several teams have a chance to emerge as district champions.

Charleston enters as the top seed, but a devastating blowout loss to Doniphan may have wiped some of the gloss off the talented Bluejays. Bluejays coach Danny Farmer, however, sees it differently.

"To be quite honest, we hate to lose a game, but that loss could help us," said Farmer. "I think it's gotten us a lot more focused and taking it a lot more serious now."

Charleston's biggest hurdle on the way to the championship game will likely be No. 4-seed East Prairie, coached by Jason Irby, which owns wins over Puxico and Scott City and played Kelly tough in a narrow 65-62 loss.

In the opposite bracket, always dangerous No. 2-seed Kelly has overachieved most of the season under coach Cory Johnson, overcoming the loss of its leading scorers from last season.

Third-seed Puxico has proven to be competitive every night out and Scott City poses problems with its inside height.

"Kelly or Puxico, which is a very good team, and Scott City is playing well, too, in that bracket, either of those teams can come out of it," said Farmer. "I hear people say that our district is a little weaker, but I don't see it that way. Not when Scott City, the sixth seed, can take Portageville, the third seed, into overtime (a 73-66 Portageville regular-season win). I don't see it that way and I have to take those teams seriously. We don't think we have a cakewalk, especially the way Kelly plays us. They play us tough all the time."

Opening round schedule:

No. 1 Charleston vs. No. 8 Greenville, Sat., 10 a.m.

No. 2 Kelly vs. No. 7 Woodland, Sat., 11:30 a.m.

No. 3 East Prairie vs. No. 5 Clearwater, Sat., 1 p.m.

No. 3 Puxico vs. No 6 Scott City, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

Boys Class 1, District 1 at Gideon

GIDEON -- Scott County Central, the second seed, ventures into uncharted waters in an odd district alignment which includes Clarkton, Cooter, Gideon, Risco, Southland and Delta C-7.

"This is a new experience for me, being new here and never having been in this district before," said Scott Central coach David Heeb. "My first impression is it's really tough for us because we don't see any of these teams play. We were forced to go into this district a couple of years ago because MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) wanted a girls team down there, but then Naylor went Class 2, so our girls don't play in that district anyway.

"It's really a disadvantage for our kids, but we're choosing to look at the bright side and say it's going to be a challenge and we're looking forward to the challenge. We're not making excuses or anything, but we kind of go in there feeling like we have a target on our back."

Risco, the other area team under coach Brandon Blankenship as the third seed, had a seven-game win streak snapped against Bell City, then lost a close one, 62-61, to Holcomb. The Tigers got back on the winning track with a win over Neelyville on Thursday before closing the regular season at Zalma on Friday.

"As long as we play well and with the intensity that we've shown, I think we have a legitimate shot," said Blankenship. "We haven't lost to anyone in our district except Clarkton and the last time we played them they beat us by one point when we were up four with 30 seconds to go.

"Scott Central is who we would meet in the semifinal and they play a tough schedule, so they may be a little bit more tested."

Blankenship believes that playing against familiar foes, except for Scott Central, may be an advantage for his team."

Clarkton, the top seed has a first-round bye in the seven-team district. Said Heeb, winner of two state titles at Bell City, "We know that Clarkton is very good and we have a lot of respect for them and, if we're going to advance through that district, we're going to have to go down there and play very well."

Opening round schedule:

No. 1 Clarkton, bye.

No. 2 Scott County Central vs. No. 7 Delta C-7, Monday, 5 p.m.

No. 3 Risco vs. No. 6 Southland, Monday, 6:30 p.m.

No. 4 Cooter vs. No. 5 Gideon, Monday, 8 p.m.

OAK RIDGE -- Bell City, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 1 polls, comes in as the top seed with a stellar 22-4 record.

Clearly the favorite, the Cubs should have little trouble reaching the championship game, needing only to get past No. 8 Marquand and the winner of the No. 4-5 matchup between Leopold and Delta.

Coming out of the other bracket, should be No. 2 Saxony Lutheran or No. 3 Oran. Oran owns a regular-season victory over Saxony Lutheran, but has lost twice, by large margins, to Bell City.

Opening round schedule:

No. 1 Bell City vs. No. 8 Marquand, Monday, 4 p.m.

No. 4 Leopold vs. No. 5 Delta, Monday, 5:30 p.m.

No. 2 Saxony Lutheran vs. No. 7 Oak Ridge, Monday, 7 p.m.

No. 3 Oran vs. No. 6 Zalma, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

BLOOMFIELD -- Richland, the No. 8 seed, opens its district in a play-in game against No. 9 Chaffee, the winner meeting No. 1-seed South Iron.

Advance, with an experienced nucleus of seniors, garnered the No. 2 seed with Van Buren in at No. 3.

The wild card in this district may be No. 4 Meadow Heights, which has shown an ability to simply outscore opponents while relying on 3-pointers. Meadow Heights recently set a national high school record for 3-pointers in a game with 36 against Marquand.

Opening round schedule:

No. 4 Meadow Heights vs. No. 5 East Carter, Sat., 2 p.m.

No. 8 Richland vs. No. 9 Chaffee, Sat., 3:30 p.m.

No. 3 Van Buren vs. No. 6 Bloomfield, Sat. 5 p.m.

No. 2 Advance vs. No. 7 Ellington, Sat., 6:30 p.m.

On the girls side, unopposed in Class 1, District 1, Scott County Central awaits the winner of the two-team District 2 which matches Delta, the second-ranked team in the Missouri Class 1 poll, and Oran. The District 2 winner and Scott Central will vie for the sectional championship.

Top seed Doniphan, ranked fifth in the state poll, is an overwhelming favorite in Class 3, District 1.

Kelly is tabbed as the No. 1 seed in Class 3, District 2. East Prairie and Charleston are No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, respectively.

Opening round schedule:

No. 1 Doniphan, bye.

No. 2 Caruthersville vs. No. 7 Malden, Sat., 10 a.m.

No. 3 NMCC vs. No. 6 Kennett, Sat., 11:30 a.m.

No. 4 Portageville vs. No. 5 Twin Rivers, Sat., 1 p.m.

Opening round schedule:

No. 1 Kelly vs. No. 8 Puxico, Sat., 4 p.m.

No. 2 Greenville vs. No. 7 Scott City, Sat., 5:30 p.m.

No. 4 Clearwater vs. No. 5 East Prairie, Monday, 6 p.m.

No. 3 Woodland vs. No. 6 Charleston, Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Delta vs. Oran, Thursday, Mar. 2, 6 p.m.

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