Advance tries to end long drought in Class 2 quarterfinal; Bell City seeks return in Class 1.
The Bess Activity Center on the campus of Three Rivers Community College was transformed into a sea of orange Wednesday night, when the Advance boys basketball team gave its fans plenty to cheer about in a sectional win.
The Hornets and their band of orange-clad fans move on to the quarterfinals tonight, with an 8:15 matchup against Crocker at Park Hills Central High School.
"We get a lot of energy from our crowd," Advance coach Joe Shoemaker said. "We get great crowd support, especially at Three Rivers. It's great to see that sea of orange."
Advance (23-7) has won 18 of its last 20 games and is one win away from its first berth in the final four since 1975.
While the trophy case has not had many additions of late, Advance has had its share of state success. The Hornets made four straight final four appearances from 1972 to 1975 and have seven final four appearances in all. They won state titles in 1972 and 1975.
"A lot of our kids' parents were involved with those runs," Shoemaker said. "They've talked about what it takes, what it's about."
The current Advance squad is short on playoff experience, with this year's district title the first for the school since 2000. Advance does have six seniors on its roster and has plenty of leadership to compensate for the lack of playoff experience.
"I don't think that will be a real factor," Shoemaker said. "The seniors, a lot of them have played a lot of varsity. They've been in big games."
Standing in Advance's way will be Crocker (20-8), which has never qualified for the final four. The Lions knocked off Viburnum 88-70 in the sectional.
Both teams substitute extensively.
"They're going to play 12 or 13 kids, rotate five at a time. They're all pretty good," Shoemaker said. "They all shoot the ball, and they're going to shoot it a lot. Defensively, they'll try to trap you."
While the Lions who like to shoot often, the Hornets make the extra pass in order to find the best shot available. Even Shoemaker enjoys watching his team's passing diplays.
"They are a lot of fun to watch," Shoemaker said. "They share the ball so well. They move the ball to the right place."
The Hornets may be unselfish, but they also know how to spot a player when he's hot. That was the case on Wednesday, when senior guard Daryl Ward lit up South Pemiscot for 28 points, including 17 in the final period.
Alex Steil led the team in scoring this season at more than 15 points a game, while Ward, Jeremy Limbaugh and James Masters each averaged in double figures.
"We've got several different guys that can score for us when they're on," Shoemaker said. "It's one of the things we look for."
The area's most successful playoff team in recent years, Bell City, will bid for its third straight trip to the state final four when it plays Verona at 2:45 p.m. today in a Class 1 quarterfinal at the West Plains Civic Center.
The Cubs (26-4) returned four starters and several other key players from a team that placed fourth in Class 1 last year. Bell City won a state title in 2004, and its run of five straight district titles also included a state title in 2002.
Verona (23-6), also winners of five straight district titles, won a Class 1 state title in 2003.
"They're an experienced team in the postseason," first-year Bell City coach Brian Brandtner said. "They have a state championship from a few year ago. They've got a few guys that can really fill it.
"We're veterans of the postseason as well. I think our seniors are really going to step up and lead the way for us. We're going to have to play an up-tempo game. I think that will play in our favor if we get up and down the floor with them."
During the Cubs' recent run of state success, using their depth to wear down opponents has been a common theme. This year is no exception, as the Cubs use eight players regularly and can go deeper if necessary.
Bell City's depth has been helped recently by the return of senior guard Kerry Wayne Lasters and sophomore Marty Dames. Both players missed time late in the season with injuries.
"With Kerry Wayne emerging, he's going to start getting a lot more minutes. That's a new element," Brandtner said. "With Marty, that kid's as tough as they come. He's the type of kid you need to win championships. He's a grinder. Teams need players like Marty in championship situations."
Bell City has history on its side, with a 4-0 record in quarterfinal games. Verona was one of Bell City's quarterfinal victims in 2004, falling to the Cubs 67-40.
The Cubs expect to continue that string of success.
"We're not looking for anything less than that," Brandtner said, "but you can't look past anyone. There's eight teams left, and on any given night anyone can beat anyone."