Cooter & Delta set to collide in Class 1 boys basketball sectional Tuesday

Delta's Eric Berry (23) seeks to calm down teammates during a stressful moment in the Class 1, District 2 championship game between Delta and Oak Ridge Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, at Bell City High School in Bell City.
Tyler Graef ~ Southeast Missourian

The Cooter Wildcats and Delta Bobcats boys basketball programs are both in uncharacteristic territory in the state playoffs after winning their respective district basketball tournaments last week.

Photo by Dustin Ward, staff
Cooter’s Luke Perkins handles the ball against Risco in a semifinal of the Tri-County Conference varsity boys basketball tournament earlier this month at Clarkton High School.

Cooter and Delta are set to square off in a Class 1 sectional Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. at Bloomfield High School after both squads won their first district title in over two decades Thursday. No. 1 seeded Cooter knocked off No. 2 seeded Clarkton 65-60 in the Class 1, District 1 final to claim its first district title since 1999. No. 1 Delta also beat No. 2 seeded Oak Ridge 88-82 in overtime in the Class 1, District 2 final to claim its first district title since 1998.

Photo by Dustin Ward, staff
Cooter’s Luke Barnes races to the rim in the Class 1, District 1 boys basketball championship against Clarkton Thursday at Southland High School in Cardwell, Missouri.

“It’s a big deal for both schools,” Delta first-year coach Chris Hahn said. “Both schools are going to have a lot of fan support come Tuesday night. Hopefully, our kids will be energized about getting this far and having a chance to possibly make a run. But Tuesday night should be a pretty good game atmosphere for both teams.”

Delta (24-5) is ranked No. 9 in the latest Class 1 state poll while Cooter (17-8) remains unranked.

Cooter coach Davis Mathis says being labeled an underdog on paper does not deter his squad one bit.

“Everyone says, ‘It can’t be done. You ain’t going to beat that group up there,’" Mathis said after Thursday's win. "But [winning a district] is not satisfying enough. We are going to try to win it. If we get beat we get beat but we are going to go up there and give it our all. Our group plays hard and they deserve everything they get.”

Both squads have displayed the ability to score frequently. Cooter is averaging 74 points per game and Delta is averaging 94 points per game.

“They’ve got kids that can shoot the ball well,” Hahn said. “Coach Mathis is a really good basketball coach so he’s going to get his kids to play really hard. He will have a game plan. I went against him five years [when I was coaching at Holcomb] and he always had something up his sleeve, so it’s going to be tough.”

The ability to put up points in a hurry makes both squads a threat to rally from behind. Delta overcame a 42-38 halftime deficit in its district final and Cooter rallied from a 21-11 second-quarter deficit to win its district championship.

“I’m pretty tough on them,” Mathis said. “I feel like we are in good enough condition if we keep rebounding and chipping away at it we have a shot to come back.”

Delta has a veteran squad that includes four senior starters. Seniors Eric Berry and Isaiah Thomas are both averaging 19 points per game. Juniors Evan Bartels and Colby Crader are not far behind at 13 points per game.

“This group has been playing together since second or third grade,” Hahn said. “They have really good team chemistry and know where their teammates are on the court. They’ve been battle-tested. Most of our seniors and juniors have played varsity since they were freshmen so they been through everything at this point.”

Cooter has two seniors, four juniors, and four freshmen on its varsity roster.

“We’ve got a good group of freshmen and our older kids also really like basketball,” Mathis said. "We shoot a lot of 3’s. But the last three or four games we’ve only hit two or three. Guys have been attacking the rim.”

Cooter’s offense is anchored by senior Jacob Watkins. The senior guard is averaging close to 30 points per game and put up 51 points in a conference semifinal victory against Southland in the Tri-County Conference Tournament earlier this month.

“He’s doing well,” Mathis said of Watkins following the Tri-County Conference Tournament. “He’s averaging 30 points in conference games and 27 points in non-conference games. He’s having a pretty good year. We just need some more guys to step up . . .”

Other players, including junior Luke Perkins, have stepped up for Cooter since conference tournament play.

Perkins tallied a team-high 19 points against Couch in a district semifinal and scored a team-high 17 points against Clarkton in the district final last week.

“He had an unbelievable district tournament,” Mathis said of Perkins. “We voted for all-district before the tournament. He deserved to be an all-district kid because he put us on his back and played his tail off in the district championship.”

Hahn believes applying continuous defensive pressure to Cooter’s perimeter shooters is key if his squad is going to advance to state quarterfinals.

“Cooter has kids that can shoot the ball from the perimeter so we are going to have to extend our defense,” Hahn said. “We need to keep pressure on them for 32 minutes up and down the floor and make sure we know where their shooters are at because they’ve got kids that can shoot it from the volleyball line.”

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