Friday, February 27, 2009

Now it's a little easier to look ahead

The buildup was there all week — or, more accurately, since their regular-season game Dec. 19 — for Friday's Sikeston-Notre Dame district championship.

Once again, two teams with great seasons. Once again, intense fan support, vocal student sections and another packed house. Once again, a talented basketball team sitting at home to watch an even more talented team aim for a state championship.

Sikeston's win over Notre Dame on Friday was a rare feat: It was the third time this season Sikeston has beaten Notre Dame, although the 49-47 score was the closest of the three. But it was the first time Sikeston was on the winning side of a district championship score since 2006, having lost to Notre Dame the past two years.

The next buildup is another one that could produce a classic finish: Sikeston at Farmington, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Mineral Area College.

Even Farmington made a dramatic entry into Friday's final round at Park Hills: The Knights scored four points in the final 0.6 seconds Thursday to eliminate Park Hills Central, and they were aiming for their third win over DeSoto in less than two months.

It all leads to plenty of questions heading into Wednesday's matchup:

Can Michael Porter win a state championship for the first time as a varsity team leader?

Can Farmington win its first-ever sectional game? The Knights have won a district title six times, but they're 0-6 in the sectional round.

Was Sikeston's 77-75 win at Farmington on Jan. 20 a sign of another close encounter to come? Was it a fluke?

And finally, with Farmington the newest member of the SEMO Conference in football, will 2008-'09 be the season a basketball rivalry is born between the schools?

Is it too early to make a prediction?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Answering reader mail

Proof that you can please some of the people some of the time ...

From a Kennett fan: "Just wondering how Hayti is ranked No. 17 and Kennett No. 22 when Kennett beat Hayti on Hayti's home court."

Easy: Kennett's win at Hayti was more than a month ago, it was a close game, and in the days since, Hayti has had the better run. In fact, Kennett just recently dropped out of the SEMO Top 25 altogether, and Hayti is No. 22.

From a New Madrid County Central fan: "Your 'who has the best chance to win a state championship' list ommits NMCC. You always seem to be reluctant to recognize NMCC or give them due credit. What's up with that?"

For starters, NMCC ranked No. 3 in our preseason SEMO Top 25, so we were optimistic. As for the poll on our home page, we listed only 10 teams who (at the time the poll was created) showed the most potential.

An anonymous e-mailer asks: "Why do you link to Brandon Bourbon's page on your site but not to any other athlete? There are many other athletes deserving of equal attention."

Maybe, but the other deserving athletes didn't get 3,251 votes in our football MVP poll — Brandon Bourbon did. Keep checking back, because there could be more individual pages coming up for other local athletes. Any suggestions?

From a Charleston girls basketball fan: "Why is Delta getting such praise when Charleston waxed them and most everyone else but the top five or six?"

In the past two weeks, Delta beat Kelly, and Kelly beat Charleston. Charleston has the potential to break into the SEMO Top 10, but not yet.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

This Scott County battle was worth the wait

It's not often an event lives up to the kind of hype generated before Wednesday's game between Scott County Centrall and Sikeston.

This time, it did.

Yes, the build-up was over the top. The face painting, the photo booths, the guest appearances. It sounded like a circus, and it stillhad a circus-like feel to it.

But my biggest worry — that the events surrounding the game would turn more interesting than the game itself — didn't happen.

And that was a good thing for all of us, including the fans and the teams.

The final 15 seconds, waiting for Scott County Central to respond to Michael Porter's final two points of the game, might have been the most intense 15 seconds of any game this year. With almost 7,000 people in a sold-out Show Me Center watching, it felt like a state championship game without the trophies.

The only disappointment is that the two teams won't play again this year with the same talent on the floor. Sikeston walked away as the best team Wednesday, but if the two sides played 10 times this year, would Sikeston win 10 times? Or five? Or one?

Even more immediate: the playoffs. The one thing that could make Wednesday's game even more of an event would be if Scott County Central and Sikeston both bring championships back home. After Wednesday, it's hard to count out either one of them.

Monday, February 09, 2009

It's the game of the year, but ...

The excitement over this week's boys basketball game between Scott County Central and Sikeston became evident when the game sold nearly 7,000 tickets in less than three weeks.

It promises to be a tremendous turnout for a regular-season game in Southeast Missouri, but with tipoff at the Show Me Center 72 hours away, what began as a classic high school basketball pairing has the makings of a basketball-themed Wrestlemania.

At last count, sports site has featured 12 blogs related to the game. Statewide forum has at least 17 active threads about it. There was talk — fairly seriously, I think — of ESPN and USA Today coverage.

Today it was announced that a photobooth will be available for fans at the game, along with face-painting. America's Got Talent winner Neal Boyd might be there to sing The Star-Spangled Banner.

What's next? Dick Vitale handling play-by-play? Joan Rivers critiquing fashion on the Show Me Center red carpet? Aretha Franklin performing "America The Beautiful?"

The Barack Obama inauguration wasn't even this much of a spectacle.

Scott Central and Sikeston coaches have to be wringing their hands over the whole event, fearful that what started as a good intention for a great basketball game is beginning to turn the game intself into a side show, falling second to the surroundings and the hype itself.

At best, the game will be a good matchup, and both teams will keep their focus on the court.

At worst, you can have your face painted before the game.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Want to see Southeast Missouri athletes? Head to St. Louis

If it was a competition, the scoreboard behind the end zone would read Lindenwood 15, SEMO 3.

That's the final count of Southeast Missouri-area recruits both schools picked up on National Signing Day, that late-winter day college football programs rely on each year to tout big gains, big names and big hype for the season ahead.

The gains for Lindenwood: More than a dozen scrappy all-state football picks with name recognition and big numbers joining a team that was 11-2 and an NAIA playoff qualifier last season.

The gains for SEMO: Three solid local picks among the 28 recruits who will be counted on to help save coach Tony Samuel's job.

Linebacker Blake Peiffer of Jackson, lineman Craig Robinson of Hayti and quarterback Derek Gibson of North County all signed letters of intent for Southeast — itself a tough sell coming off a 4-8 season that included two overtime wins.

Lindenwood, a St. Louis school fast becoming a haven for local talent, gained a mix of seniors at every position, including quarterback Blake Parr of Kennett (a 2,000-yard passer in 2008), running back Joey Lewandowski of Fredericktown (a 1,900-yard rusher in '08), and Dustin Noll of Ste. Genevieve (a 1,500-yard receiver in '08).

Two other prized local recruits also went elsewhere: Linebacker Tony Martin of Park Hills Central signed with Ball State, and quarterback Kory Faulkner of Ste. Genevieve with SIU-Carbondale. SEMO, incidentally, was a blip on the radar for both.

For Samuel and the coaches that preceded him, winning the game on the field has always been just half the battle. Even harder is the fight to win local recruits and convincing Division I — even NAIA — prospects that Southeast is a destination, not a second choice. Local recruits equals local fans equals local excitement. And so on.

SEMO could ask Lindenwood how it's done.