Cape Central upsets defending tournament champs

Friday, December 28, 2007
Players sprawled across the Show Me Center court for a loose ball in the final seconds of the Bell City's loss to Central Thursday, December 27, 2007, in the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament. Central's Anthony Watts, center, picked up the ball in front of Bell City's Nick Niemczyk. Wattts was fouled and then hit two free throws to win the game by four points. (Kit Doyle)

Central will play rival Jackson in tonight's semifinals.

Visit semoball.com for full tournament coverage.

Central is back on the map.

Persistence pays off.

Bell City has one incredible player, and he can, despite reports to the contrary, be stopped.

Central freshman Zack Boerboom shot over Bell City's Phillip Gross. (Kit Doyle)

These were the lessons in the chaos that surrounded the 58-54 upset of the second-seeded and defending champion Bell City Cubs by Central on Thursday night at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament.

The Cubs' Nick Niemczyk scored 29 points, but Central's Shane Nolen kept him from getting the ball when it mattered most.

Bell City trailed the Tigers by just two points with 19 seconds left on the clock, and, after a Cubs timeout Nolen figured he knew where the ball was going.

"We knew they were going to him. Why not?" asked Nolen rhetorically after the game. "I was going to come around the screen and try to get a hand on the ball. That's it. I wasn't going to let him score on me."

He succeeded in knocking the ball away almost as soon as point guard Ethan Watkins passed it to Niemczyk, leading to a scrum on the court that would not be settled until Central's Anthony Watts secured it with just 3 seconds remaining on the clock.

Watts, who scored a team-high 17 points, then knocked down two free throws to complete Central's 58-54 victory.

Niemczyk had had his way in the first half, scoring 22 points and leading his team to a 32-29 advantage at the break.

Central coach Drew Church knew something would have to change if his seventh-seeded Tigers (6-5) were to pull off the upset and their third straight win.

"At halftime I just challenged a few of our kids, 'Are they going to step up and do what it take to not let him score?' Mainly I challenged Derek Walker," Church said, "and Derek Walker took the challenge and played his heart out."

Walker, with help from Nolen and others, held the senior sharp-shooter scoreless in the third quarter as well as the final four minutes of the game.

The fourth quarter started with the Tigers holding a 44-41 lead after Nolan hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the third quarter, but they would relinquish the lead with 3:20 to play when Melvin Johnson, in his first game back from an injury, drove to the basket for an uncontested layup following an offensive rebound.

Bell City remained ahead until Central's Drew Gardner erased the memory of a missed opportunity and hit a 3-point shot with just 45 seconds left on the clock, putting his team up 56-55.

"Right before that 3-pointer, he got a rebound and missed an easy layup," Church said. "He could've quit. He could've got his spirits down, but he didn't. He had the toughness and the strength to take another shot and drained it, and it was huge for us."

Gardner also mentioned the layup miss after the game, but said he was glad to have a chance to redeem himself.

"I thought I had the shot," he said. "I saw them coming at me, and I thought, 'I can't stop now, might as well shoot it.'"

Bell City coach Brian Brandtner, whose team suffered its first loss, said the Tigers deserved credit for their performance.

"They beat us in every facet of the game," he said. "Our defense was probably the worst it's been all year, but you've got to give their offense credit. They worked the ball a lot and used a lot of clock up and got some good shots, and they made their shots. I give them all the credit in the world."

Nolen, who ended the game with 15 points, plans to use that credit to help his school's recently maligned basketball program, saying that beating an undefeated team in front of the big crowd at the Show Me Center was just what it needed.

"That kind of put us back on the map," he said. "We're trying to put Cape back on the map."

Church mildly agreed.

"In a way it is because these guys are starting a foundation of toughness and a program that, years from now, kids are going to look back and think that those kids started a foundation of toughness and the will to win," he said. "And I'm proud of that."

CAPE CENTRAL 58, BELL CITY 54

Bell City 21 11 9 13 -- 54

Central 11 18 15 14 -- 58

Bell City (54) -- Ethan Watkins 3, Nick Niemczyk 29, Melvin Johnson 5, Phillip Gross 12, Marty Dames 5. FG 20, FT 8-13, F 12 (3-pointers: Niemczyk 4, Watkins 1, Johnson 1. Fouled out: none)

Central (58) -- Anthony Watts 17, Chase Johnson 6, Shane Nolen 15, Zack Boerboom 11, Drew Gardner 6, Garrett Pannier 3. FG 21, FT 8-13, F 16 (3-pointers: Watts 3, Nolen 2, Gardner 2, Pannier 1).

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