COLUMN: Bernie, Dexter on collsion course for third meeting of season

The Dexter Bearcats and Bernie Mules could meet for a third time this season in the championship game of the upcoming SCAA boys basketball tournament that starts Monday at the Bearcat Event Center.

The rivals split their two meetings this season.

The Bearcats beat Bernie 58-56 in the semifinals of the Bloomfield Christmas Tournament, and Bernie won the rematch 60-55 Friday night at the Bearcat Event Center.

After winning Friday night’s game, Bernie coach Jason Long expects another tightly contested matchup if the two teams meet again. The first-year head coach knows Dexter is a better shooting team than it showed Friday night.

“We made shots tonight. They struggled shooting, especially the first three quarters,” Long said. “Their kids are good shooters. We understand that. Defensively, we were trying to do our best to keep them in front of us, which we didn’t do a very good job of at times and also contest their shots. We’ve got to get better at helping and recovering. We’ve got to get better at containing the basketball and not getting beat off the dribble so much.”

The Mules received the top seed for the eight-team tournament thanks to their victory Friday night, and Dexter was seeded No. 2.

Advance was seeded No. 3, Puxico No. 4, Richland No. 5, Bloomfield No. 6, Woodland No. 7 and Bell City No. 10.

Entering play this week, the Bearcats (7-5, 2-1 SCAA) had won seven of their previous nine games.

Dexter opened conference play with a 95-45 win over Richland and a 69-32 win over Bloomfield.

The Bearcats started the season 0-3, losing to then-Class 3 No. 1 Charleston 76-36 in their opener, 66-61 to New Madrid County Central in the first round of the SEMO Conference tournament and 62-43 to state-ranked Notre Dame in the tournament’s second round.

Andrew Ellinghouse and Garrett Henson have been the driving force behind a Dexter offense that averages 59.8 points per game. Ellinghouse is scoring a team-high 12.8 points per game, while scoring in double figures in a team-high nine games. Henson, who is averaging 11.1 points, has reached double figures seven times and scored a season-high 22 points against Bernie at the BCT.

Freshman Cole Nichols has given the Bearcats a lift, averaging eight points a game. He twice scored 21 points in a game and has scored points in 11 of the team’s 12 games.

Jackson Allen, Ryder Boles, Carter Dorton, Peyton Driskill and Dylan Sitze have had their moments from beyond the 3-point mark.

Dorton was slowed by an ankle injury last week, missing both the Bloomfield and Bernie games.

The Mules, who are ranked No. 9 in Missouri Class 2 according to the state coaches poll, opened the season with eight straight wins. They won the Bernie Invitational, beating then-state-ranked Campbell 67-62 in the championship game.

The Mules (12-4, 4-0) began SCAA play with four straight wins — 86-28 over Woodland, 84-36 over Bell City, 83-61 over Advance and 60-55 over Dexter.

Junior Landon Zoll and senior Blake Harty have been the Mules’ top offensive performers. Zoll averages a team-high 19.6 points a game and Harty averages 15.8.

Six-foot-five senior Andrew Geohagan has been solid, averaging 7.9 points and playing solid defense as one of the taller players in the conference.

Juniors Tyler Suiter and Johnny Vaughn have shown improvement throughout the season.

Vaughn, who is averaging 9.1 points, has reached double-figure scoring in eight of his team’s 16 games, primarily as a perimeter shooter.

Suiter who is averaging 9.1, has scored in double figures in five of the last nine games, giving the Mules an added inside presence.

Advance is the main threat to the Bearcats and Mules reaching the championship game.

The Hornets carried an 11-3 record into this week’s slate of games. They are 4-1 in conference play but have shown chinks in their armor lately. After beating Puxico (87-50), Bell City (74-36) and Bloomfield (67-50) soundly, they lost 83-61 to Bernie and barely defeated a three-win Richland squad (63-61) Thursday night.

Senior Jack Below is the conference’s leading scorer, averaging 31.1 points, including a pair of 50-plus outings.

Puxico and Richland have been teams on the rise in recent weeks. Puxico (5-9) had won three of five games entering play this week, and Richland (3-8) had won two straight before losing a nail-biter to Advance.

After snapping a 44-game losing streak and starting the season 2-1, Bell City has fallen upon hard times, losing 10 straight entering this week. The Cubs won the consolation championship of the Oran Invitational but have since been outscored by an average of 34 points during their most recent skid.

Bloomfield has struggled offensively this season, averaging only 46.4 points through 12 games while compiling a 1-11 record. The Wildcats are 0-2 in the SCAA play.

Woodland opened the season 3-10, recording wins against Zalma (69-49), Chaffee (56-41) and Richland (55-48). The Cardinals are 1-1 in conference play.

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