Sunday, January 27, 2008

How badly does Central want Carl Gross?

How would Carl Gross look in an orange and black sweater on the Cape Girardeau Central sideline?

The folks in charge of hiring Central's football coach would love to find out, and as sure as it's another cold Missouri day in January, they'd like to make it happen.

Central needs a winner. Not a coach, but a winner. The football program that's been stuck in mediocrity mode on the field for a couple of decades is tired of being just anther checkmark on the schedule of its 10 opponents. Gross, whose roots go deep in Cape Girardeau and at Central, was mentioned more within minutes after nine-year Lawrence Brookins was given his door prize and told to close the door behind him just weeks ago.

Gross told the local print media this weekend that his abrupt resignation as a coach and science teacher Thursday came after a couple of years of thought and planning. It was just time, he said. It was time to leave after 19 seasons and a list of district championships, SEMO Conference titles and statewide recognition. And, accoding to Gross, his resignation letter Thursday, January 24 was the result of two years of thought and planning.

But coaches don't clean out their desks in the middle of the week in January on a whim. They don't leave without telling their team goodbye. They don't assign a science project on Thursday and decide to not show up the next day. Or ever.

Even a minimum-wage restaurant employee is expected to give a two-week notice. Gross didn't just drive out of the Jackson High School parking lot. He left tire marks.

Gross described to the media his image of a carefree life of hunting and fishing and taking long afternoon naps in a La-Z-Boy. But he knows Central is on the hunt for a winner. And he knows he's on Central's list.

Central would love a chance to lure away Jackson's most prized coach and snub its nose at its conference rival across Interstate 55. It would be one of the biggest spitballs ever fired in the Central-Jackson history, and it would hit Indians fans square in the face.

The question isn't whether Central wants Carl Gross. The question is whether Carl Gross wants Central.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ten games to see before the season ends

Let's face it, Jackson vs. Sikeston Part II was a dud. Tuesday's other two big ones — Malden at Charleston and Lesterville at South Iron — were better, but hardly nail-biters.

So now the question: What are the 10 boys basketball games to start looking forward to now?

Get out your calendars. Here we go.

January 29: North County at Fredericktown, Jackson at Charleston. We've seen both of these games already, both times in early-season tournaments on neutral courts. Fredericktown defeated North County by three points in Illinois, and Charleston knocked off Jackson at the SEMO Conference Tournament. Expect loud crowds and a packed house for these two.

February 1: Thayer at Salem. They might not be competing for the lead in the South Central Association (where Willow Springs since in the top spot), but that won't diminish the stakes. Thayer's only loss was to state-ranked Willow Springs, and Salem has tournaments titles from Farmington and St. James to its credit.

February 2: Bell City at South Iron. Both teams can move, both teams can run, so there's the potential for a high-scoring, small-school shootout in South Iron's final home game of the season. There's also a chance the two will be a combined 37-2 heading into this one.

February 5: Clarkton at Malden, Cape Girardeau Central vs. Jackson. Both feature nearby rivals going head-to-head. Clarkton and Malden have spent the entire season in our Top 25 poll, and Central faces Jackson for the third time since late November (Jackson owns 58-54 and 58-38 wins so far), this time at the Show Me Center.

February 12: Malden at Doniphan, Hayti at Bell City. It's the time of year for teams to gain momentum heading toward district playoffs. A wins in either of these games will be a big lift.

February 15: Portageville at NMCC. Until the late '90s, these two rarely met on a basketball court. But this year's version of the annual game between the New Madrid County schools is likely to feature a pair of Top 25 teams, not to mention bragging rights.

February 21: Kingston at Grandview.
Futility? Just ask either one of these teams. Kingston ended a losing streak at 97 games when it defeated Grandview in December. Grandview, which hasn't won yet this season, will look for payback on its home court in the teams' second meeting of the season. It won't mean much in the standings, but this should be one of the most emotional games of the year.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A chance for the real Jackson and Sikeston to step forward

It doesn't get much better than a showdown featuring the No. 1 and No. 2 boys basketball teams in Southeast Missouri. It happens for the second time of the season Tuesday.

No. 1 Sikeston goes to No. 2 Jackson in a rematch of Jackson's 74-69 overtime win in the SEMO Conference Tournament on Dec. 6 at Sikeston's field house. Sikeston was also part of this season's only other matchup of teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the SemoSportsWeb Top 25; in that one, No. 2 Sikeston rolled past No. 1 Notre Dame in the SEMO Conference third-place game.

Sikeston has held mostly steady since a 2-1 run through the Poplar Bluff Showdown just after Christmas, with all of its wins coming against teams that have been in the Top 25 much of the season (Charleston, Fredericktown, Scott City and Farmington).

Since winning its Christmas tournament, Jackson owns wins over Woodland, Notre Dame and Poplar Bluff, with a pair of blemishes to Jefferson City and Parkway South.

A few other things to look for this week:

• South Iron gets its unbeaten record tested Tuesday against Lesterville, then again Saturday against Potosi. The Panthers' matchup against Bell City on Feb. 2 has the potential to be one of the region's top small-school pairings of the season.

And speaking of South Iron: If the Panthers keep winning, do they have a claim to the No. 2 spot in the next poll behind the winner of Tuesday's Sikeston-Jackson showdown?

• The girls game of the week: Fredericktown and Farmington are unbeaten in the MAAA large-school division, and on Thursday the teams meet for the lead in the conference and the top seed in the upcoming league tournament. It's one of several big events on this week's schedule; check the full list on our home page.

• Also on the home page, check out the latest (and exclusive) basketball galleries from SemoSportsWeb photographers. There are almost two dozen images from Saturday's West County-Park Hills Central game, plus more from Ste. Genevieve vs. North County, Bunker vs. Clearwater and Malden vs. Hayti. Click here so see the full list of sports and events photographed this season; we've posted images of 62 different area high school and college teams in 39 events so far since winter sports started in late November.

This week, look for galleries from Tuesday's Sikeston-Jackson game and the South Iron-Lesterville matchup, along with Ste. Genevieve-Farmington wrestling Tuesday and more later in the week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

From the mailbag comes these burning questions ...

You noticed that handy box labeled "Feedback" on the left side of almost every page on our site? It leads to a lot of interesting comments from visitors to our site. Some of the best from the new year so far:

Wow, it's not totally obvious that the people that make the top 25 are from ND ... the hate for Scott City is glaring ... they beat #12, owned #21, and have their only losses against #1, 2 & 6. Scott City has been one of the teams in the Top 25 that's been hard to guage all season. The Rams beat Bell City and Saxony Lutheran, but the lopsided losses to Jackson, Scott County Central and Sikeston raised red flags. As for anybody from Notre Dame affecting the poll: We get feedback and input from a lot of different people, whether it's fans, coaches or athletes. Nobody at Notre Dame has more say than anybody else. And as for me, I'm a Charleston grad.

I think you should list JV scores. Good idea, although sometimes we have our hands full just tracking down varsity scores from more than 80 high schools in our region. Our next step is to make varsity girls basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and other sports a bigger part of our site. Once we clear that hurdle, we'll move on to JV. Until then, it's easy for anybody to post scores and info from any sport, and any team, in our message board.

You only cover SE Missouri? Come to St. Louis. That's where it's all at. As soon as they finish the work on U.S. 40.

Get your head out of the sand. New Madrid is a top 25 team. Just wait and see in the playoffs. Check the new poll. The win over Charleston last week sealed their spot in the Top 25, at least for now.

Do your monkeys that make your poll every week all have Notre Dame jerseys on? If only they made them in a chimpanzee size.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Have we seen the end of dominant teams?

Southeast Missouri basketball teams are taking a cue from college football.

For every step forward, there's a step back. For every thrilling win against a top-ranked teams, there's a loss that raises an eyebrow.

Take a look at any of the top teams in our latest Top 25 poll — or for that matter, any team in the Top 25 — and you wonder who will and won't be left standing at the end of the season. The past college football season was one of the most up-and-down rollercoaster rides in history (lest we forget South Florida, California and Boston College each took turns at No. 2 in the polls last season), and Southeast Missouri basketball is on the same path toward an anything-goes finish.

Sikeston is the latest team to step forward and show (possibly) the most staying power after wins over Charleston and Fredericktown, but those are teams that have shown their own soft spots along the way. There was a time when a win over Charleston, Jackson, Scott County Central and Notre Dame had the power to make or break a team's season. But has the mystique worn off?

More than a decade ago we watched teams coached by Ronnie Cookson, Lennies McFerren and Steve Burk all push winning streaks well into the double digits. Their teams generated excitement, their fans flocked to sold-out tournament games at the Show Me Center, and they turned gyms in Morley, Charleston and Jackson into arenas where fans crossed their fingers and hoped just to get in the door.

Watching the region's traditional powerhouse teams face uncertainty with every game makes the sport exciting, but it begs the question: Have we seen the last of the true powerhouse teams in our region?