Surprising Cubs to face Indians

Saturday, December 30, 2006
Bell City's Marty Dames, second from left, talked with referees Jay Pyles, Randy Propst and Ron Oller late in Friday's semifinal game against Charleston at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament. Dames was fouled on a play but teammate Nick Niemczyk took the first free throw for the Cubs. His shot was disallowed and the Cubs were assessed a technical foul. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Bell City's boys basketball team slowed things down Friday night in the semifinals of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament, and in doing so pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent tournament history with a 52-46 win over No. 1 seed Charleston at the Show Me Center.

The Cubs (7-4) will make just their second title-game appearance in the 62-year-old tournament at 7:30 p.m. tonight against No. 3 Jackson. Bell City's last finals appearance came in 1953, a loss to Morehouse.

"It feels good," second-year Bell City coach Brian Brandtner said. "We played a tough team [Scott County Central] Wednesday and beat them, and we beat another great team today. We feel real pleased with the way we played."

Added junior Austin Segers: "We had faith in this team. We kept saying we could win, don't worry about what everyone else thinks."

Last year, the Bluejays routed Bell City in the third-place game. Charleston, which has not appeared in the tournament finals the past three years while leading the field with 15 tournament titles, seemed primed to end its current tournament drought, riding a 10-1 record as the top-ranked team in Class 3.

Bell City's Phillip Gross shot above Charleston's Jamarcus Williams in the second quarter Friday at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Bell City, Class 1 runner-up last year, set the tone early, holding the Bluejays to just six first-quarter points. The Cubs led 14-6 after one quarter and held a 19-6 lead early in the second.

"We wanted to take our time, really be patient on offense," Brandtner said. "Not so much stall, but make sure to get a good shot."

A slow-shooting start from Charleston helped Bell City's strategy, and the Bluejays did little to pressure the ball early. As the second quarter swung into gear, Charleston turned up the pressure on the Cubs.

Charleston's tenacity on defense began to pay off, as the lead dwindled. Bell City went more than 6 minutes without a basket in the second quarter, as its 13-point lead was wiped out after Brian Parham's short jump shot tied the score 19-19 with 45 seconds remaining in the half. The score remained knotted at 19 at the break.

"We got on our heels that second quarter, and we knew we couldn't do that," Segers said.

Added Brandtner: "The last 5 minutes of the second quarter, they really got us on our heels. They were aggressive, they got more pressure, but at halftime we were able to regroup and do what we wanted to do."

Charleston grabbed its first lead a minute into the third at 21-19. Bell City briefly got back in front late in the quarter on a pair of putbacks from 6-foot-10 center Will Bogan, but Charleston led 35-29 at the end of the third.

Bell City clawed back into the game in the fourth period. Bogan again hit a pair of big baskets to start the quarter, narrowing the lead to 35-33. Melvin Johnson's lone basket of the game, a 3-pointer, gave Bell City a 36-35 with 5:05 remaining.

"If you let a team hang around, they'll get confident and think they can beat you ... but they played a great game," Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. "I take my hat off to Bell City."

Segers added to the lead, banking in a 3-pointer from the corner for a 39-35 lead. It was the third 3-pointer of the game for Segers, who finished with 10 points.

"The last couple of days, I wasn't feeling so good. I was sick," Segers said. "After the day off, I came in the gym today ready to play."

The Cubs held Charleston scoreless for nearly 5 minutes in the fourth quarter, as Williams finally got the Bluejays on the board with 3:26 remaining to cut the lead to 39-37. Instead of sparking the Bluejays, Bell City was again the team to respond.

Bell City scored the next seven points to open a 46-37 lead. Nick Niemczyk had five points in the run, including his first 3-pointer of the night with 1:19 remaining.

"We started getting more aggressive, and taking care of the ball," Segers said of Bell City's fourth-quarter run.

Back-to-back treys by Williams and Antonio Riggens cut the lead to 46-43 with 48 seconds remaining. Niemczyk hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to 48-43, and Charleston did not get any closer.

The Cubs hit six of 10 free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Niemczyk hit all four of his free throws.

"We knocked them down and that's been our Achilles heel for us this year," Brandtner said. "That can help you win these games."

The lone negative for the Cubs was an injury to Johnson, the Cubs' starting guard. Johnson went out with about 4 minutes remaining in the quarter after suffering a leg injury. Segers took his spot in the lineup and helped the Cubs close out the win.

"He stepped up for us tonight," Brandtner said. "He filled in for Melvin great. He filled the void."

Bogan led the Cubs with 15 points, and Niemczyk had 12.

Justin Clark, dogged by Marty Dames throughout the game, led the Bluejays with 14 points. Williams and Garyion Johnson added nine apiece.

Bell City 52, Charleston 46

Bell City1451023--52

BELL CITY (52) -- Will Bogan 15, Nick Niemczyk 12, Austin Segers 10, Phillip Gross 9, Melvin Johnson 3, Marty Dames 3. FG 18, FT 11-24, F 15 (3-pointers: Segers 3, Niemczyk 1, Johnson 1. Fouled out: none)

CHARLESTON (46) -- Justin Clark 14, Jamarcus Williams 9, Garyion Johnson 9, Antonio Riggens 7, Marakle Kent 2, Brian Parham 2, Jerquawn Shirrell 3. FG 18, FT 6-15, F 20 (3-pointers: Clark 1, Johnson 1, Williams 1. Fouled out: Williams)

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