STATESMAN TOP 10: Dexter boys basketball ends SCAA tourney drought

Members of the Dexter Bearcats hold up the championship plaque after beating Bernie 61-42 to win the SCAA Basketball Tournament on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, at Bloomfield High School.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Bearcats will carry a 22-game SCAA regular-season win streak into the next season, but during that stretch, they hadn’t won the SCAA tournament. They accomplished the feat with a team that lost five seniors from an 18-win team and featured a new head coach, Lloyd Hyten. The game wasn’t close in the end, but their fans celebrated with the players on court long after the game had ended. This game is No. 6 on the Dexter Statesman's list of top high school games from the 2018-19 school year involving Stoddard County teams.

BLOOMFIELD — The Dexter Bearcats could taste victory in the previous two championship games of the SCAA Basketball Tournament.

The Bearcats lost 54-51 to Advance in 2017 and 53-50 to Bernie in 2018.

This year, the top-seeded Bearcats jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half and rolled to a 61-42 victory over second-seeded Bernie on Friday, Feb. 1, to win the tournament for the first time since 2012.

“It’s great,” senior Braxton Foster said of his team’s’ victory. “I feel like we worked so hard for this and put in (the work) during the offseason. We just worked as a team. We really wanted this game.”

Senior Seth Rogers appreciated the victory because this was his last go-around with the Bearcats.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Rogers said. “Everybody’s out here hugging. It’s great. We did it for Dexter. With all my teammates, we’ve been playing together since third grade. It’s unreal.”

The two rivals met exactly two weeks before the championship game with the Bearcats holding off a furious second-half comeback by Bernie for a 54-51 win.

“We talked about that at halftime,” Dexter coach Lloyd Hyten said. “We’ve been here before with a 15-point lead and now it’s 17. I said, ‘they’re not done.’ A coach (Brad) Botsch team never quits. They’re going to be all over us. I said we’ve got to keep our composure. Last time, we had a lot of turnovers. This time, we just did a great job of taking care of the ball. We anticipated and we were ready for it.”

Bernie turned up the pressure in the second half but never came closer than 10 points after halftime.

“That first game, we played really hard defensively that first half,” Foster said. “The second half, they just started to make some shots, but this was the championship game. We all really wanted this. … We were talking about that (in the locker room). We’re not going to come out and just settle down and let them shoot. We were going to keep down and play hard defense.”

“Everybody just kept their calm when they pressed us,” Rogers said. “Last time, we had trouble with this press and we just kept (giving up) turnovers. This time, we slowed it down. We wanted this thing bad, especially after last year.”

Dexter junior Garrett Henson scored a game-high 28 points, and eight of those came on passes from Foster.

“We just clicked,” Foster said. “We’ve worked well all year. I mean we have that little high-low offense. We didn’t do well in some games. Tonight, it just kind of worked out.”

Foster finished with 14 points with six coming on passes from Henson.

“Those Twin Towers are working good (together),” Hyten said. “We’ve got some guards who can shoot the ball. We’re playing really well. I’m really proud of them.”

The lead changed hands five times in the first quarter before the Bearcats got hot from the field.

Andrew Ellinghouse sank a 3-pointer to ignite a 17-0 run that lasted into the second quarter. Nate Gargas followed with a driving layup, Henson made two free throws and Eric Hahn sank a 3-pointer to give them a 17-10 lead after one quarter.

Dexter scored the first seven points of the second quarter. Gargas made a free throw, Foster made back-to-back floaters on assists from Henson under the basket, and Foster returned the favor, passing to Henson for a basket and a 24-10 lead,

“We just kept moving the ball,” Rogers said. “We just shot what they gave us. We just played great. Garrett and Braxton played great down low. They had so many assists to each other.”

Weston Zoll ended the Mules’ scoring drought with a 3-pointer with 3:48 to play in the second. They hadn’t scored since Zoll scored from the baseline midway through the first.

The Bearcats pushed their lead to 15 (28-13) on a running jumper by Rogers and to 17 (34-17) on a 3-pointer by Ellinghouse.

Skyler Schwent scored on a driving layup to cut the Mules’ deficit to 34-19 at halftime.

The Bearcats shot 12 of 20 (60 percent) in the first half, while Bernie made seven of 18 attempts (39 percent).

Weston Zoll paced Bernie with 13 points, and Landon Zoll had 10.

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