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Bell City seeks revenge, Class 1 title against Jefferson
Jefferson defeated the Cubs in last year's semifinals.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Winning the Class 1 state semifinal on Thursday accomplished one goal for the Bell City Cubs.
Jefferson's victory in the other semifinal helped set up another.
The Cubs (28-4) meet unbeaten Jefferson (31-0) at 1:45 p.m. today at the Mizzou Arena. Bell City is ranked third in the state; Jefferson, from Conception Junction in northwest Missouri, is No. 1.
"Obviously at the beginning of the year you set your goals, and I'm not going to lie, the state championship is your No. 1 goal," Bell City coach Brian Brandtner said. "We've mentioned Jefferson probably [in] three practices every week. Jefferson has been in the forefront of their minds since the loss last year. This has been the goal we've been working for."
The Cubs were denied the chance to repeat as state champions last year when Jefferson posted a 65-50 semifinal victory. The entire margin of victory was decided in the fourth quarter, when the Eagles outscored the Cubs 26-11.
Bell City has a chance to rectify that outcome today.
The Cubs advanced to the championship game with a 71-56 win over Tuscumbia in Thursday's semifinal. Jefferson outscored Silex by six points in the fourth quarter of its semifinal and secured a 59-52 win.
Jeff Liggins put on a show in Bell City's semifinal win, scoring a game-high 23 points. Liggins came into the tournament averaging 9.2 points a game.
But the senior feels right at home in the state final four. He was a starter on Bell City's 2004 title team, and last year had a pair of double-doubles in two final four losses.
"It helps a lot," Liggins said of his state experience. "My sophomore year, I was probably extremely jittery. As the years have gone on I've gotten used to it. I love it."
Bell City's only new starter from last year's final four team, 6-foot-10 junior Will Bogan, had 19 points and 14 rebounds in the semifinal win.
Size was a problem for Jefferson in last year's championship, when it lost to North Shelby and 6-foot-8 Cody Stoneburner, who scored 33 points.
Bogan's presence will be a key factor in today's game. Jefferson's tallest starter is listed at 6-2, and its tallest player is listed at 6-5. Bogan leads the Cubs in scoring at 19 points per game and adds 10.8 rebound per game.
One of the biggest differences for the Cubs this year is the presence of Brandtner, who is making his first coaching trip to the final four after taking over for David Heeb prior to this season.
"I've been a nervous wreck, to be honest, these last couple of days up here," Brandtner said. "But I knew once the tip-off came, I'd be fine."
Jefferson has breezed through its opponents to this point. Thursday's semifinal was only the second game decided by less than 10 points for Jefferson this season.
"All year long, Jefferson's been hyped up," Brandtner said. "They've been ranked No. 1 all year long. I think they've only had three games within 25 points. The competition we play is much more stiff, but that doesn't mean they're not any good."
Bell City will be looking for a better game from Nick Niemczyk. The sophomore is second on the team in scoring at 18.1 points per game, but he shot just 2-for-14 in the semifinal.
The Cubs adjusted.
"That speaks volumes for us," Brandtner said. "Nick scores six points in a semifinal state game and we still win. Jeff Liggins is the main reason for that. He has a tendency to step up in the state tournament. We talked after the game about having to ice Jeff's back because he picked us up and carried us.
"You can take away Nick, and Jeff will kill you. Take away Jeff, and Phillip Gross will kill you. Take away Phil, and Will Bogan can kill you."
With a win today the Cubs will pick up their third state title in five years. The Cubs won state titles in 2002 and 2004.
"We came here for one reason," Brandtner said. "To win a state championship."
Beating Jefferson would be an added bonus.
Delta tries to recover
Following only its second loss of the season, a 48-21 thumping at the hands of Leeton in Thursday's Class 1 girls semifinal, Delta will try to bounce back in today's third-place game.
The Bobcats will take on Silex at 10:35 a.m. at Mizzou Arena.
Delta shot just 17.9 percent in its semifinal loss and scored just seven points in the first half.
Without a senior on its roster, the Bobcats will try to build momentum heading into next season.
"We definitely want to have a good ballgame the next one," Delta coach Randy White said following Thursday's loss. "We're disappointed with the way we played, and we want to come back and show we deserved to be here."