83 / 61
      75 / 47
      72 / 52

      Top-ranked Eugene, 16 other area teams set for state sectionals

      Craig Engelbrecht had seen this type of atmosphere before.

      It had just been 22 years.

      "It was the closest thing since 1992 (Eugene's Final Four season), when we played Helias in the championship game of the California Tournament," Engelbrecht said.

      "It" was the Green House in Wardsville on Saturday night, as Engelbrecht's Eugene Eagles met the Blair Oaks Falcons in the Class 3 District 8 championship bout.

      "It" was more electric than Ben Franklin's kite, and the size of the crowd probably violated several safety codes.

      "Just an amazing atmosphere, very similar to that moment in 1992," Engelbrecht said.

      Through three quarters, the game was tighter than a rusted nut on a rusted bolt --- Eugene held slender leads of one point after one quarter, three points at the half, four entering the fourth.

      Eight minutes left. Did the top-seeded Eagles --- who are ranked No. 1 in the state --- feel the pressure?


      "These guys never change their expression, no matter what the score is or what's happening in the game," Engelbrecht said. "They're pretty even-keel.

      "We'd been playing good defense, we just weren't making as many shots as we normally do. But they were still confident."

      Cody Shaw did what he does, scoring 23 points and dishing out four assists.

      "If he didn't score himself, he got the ball to the open man for them to get a good chance to score," Engelbrecht said. "That's what he's been doing all year."

      The 5-11 senior is averaging 18 points, 5.3 rebounds, four assists and 3.6 steals.

      "He plays steady very single game," Engelbrecht said. "The bigger the game, the more he steps up."

      You could say the same of 6-4 senior Cameron Massman, who hit crucial buckets early in the fourth quarter to help stretch the lead into a comfort zone.

      "Those were huge," Engelbrecht said, "because everybody was having a hard time scoring because of the defense by both teams."

      Massman finished with 14 points, double his average, in what turned out to be an 18-point win.

      "He's been playing much better the last couple of weeks," Engelbrecht said, "and he hit some really big shots."

      Next up for the Eagles (25-1) is a sectional date with Palmyra (22-5) at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Mexico High School.

      "They look a lot like us, not an extremely tall team but very athletic," Engelbrecht said. "They get up and down the floor and have a lot of guys who can shoot it well."

      In Palmyra's district-championship 74-51 win over Highland, the Panthers had a pair of guards combine to score 56 points.

      "That," Engelbrecht said, "gives you a little idea that they can put the ball in the basket, so we're going to have to be ready to defend."

      Rest assured, the Eagles will be ready. And after Saturday night's emotionally-charged win in the frenzied Green House --- Eugene's first district championship win in six years --- the Eagles should be ready for anything.

      "I told them before that game that win or lose, it wasn't going to change how I felt about them as a team," Engelbrecht said. "They've accomplished so much this year."

      Perhaps more is still to come. Perhaps a lot more.


      IT WAS ONLY FITTINGã??that game was played on the first of March.

      Let the Madness begin.

      The Iberia Rangers got a head start, as they secured a Class 2 district title Friday night with a gritty 47-41 win over Plato.

      "The Plato game was a tough game," Iberia coach Steve Schofield said. "They slowed the ball down ... that's the first time we've seen that this year.

      "But we didn't get frustrated, we handled it."

      This outcome was the exception, not the norm, for the fifth-ranked Rangers (26-1) this season.ã??Of their previous 25 wins,ã??only two were decided by less than 14 points; the Rangers won 17 games by more than 20 points; 13 by more than 30.

      Iberia has turned into blowout city.

      But on the heels of last year's third-place state finish, this really isn't a surprise.

      "We came into the season with a lot of high expectations, based on last year and with four returning starters," Schofield said. "I don't think the expectations bothered us --- I think it bothered me more than them. They've handled it well and taken it one game at at time.

      "They've stepped up in every game."

      Well, the Rangers ARE 26-1, not 27-0. (Don't write me, that was a joke.)

      The one loss? This would be what you'd call a high-quality loss, a setback to No. 1 Eugene (see above) in the championship game of the Richland Tournament.

      Iberia's driving force is 6-2 senior Darrien Dickey, who's averaging 18 points a game.

      "He's our point guard and our go-to guy," Schofield said. "He's just had a great year ... he can play outside, he can play inside. And he's our leader, on and off the court."

      On the court, Dickey has scored in double-figures in 24 of 27 games. He scored 39 points in a dazzling 77-74 win over Father Tolton in the MFA Oil/Breaktime Shootout at Mizzou Arena in January.

      That set a scoring record in the event, which has been going for 21 years.

      Off the court, however, Dickey is even better.

      "He's friends with everybody, it doesn't matter if you're a basketball player or a kindergartner," Schofield said. "He treats everybody the same way.

      "He's just a great, young man."

      While Dickey is the driving force, Dexter Frisbee is certainly the biggest force --- the 6-10 sophomore is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds.

      "A lot of teams have tried to take away Dexter," Schofield said, "but that just opens it up for other people."

      Frisbee also averages three blocks, but "I don't know how many shots he changes a game, but it's a lot."

      Dustin Bloodgood --- a 6-2 junior who hit six-pointers in last year's third-place game --- is averaging 11 points and six rebounds, while 6-6 sophomore Riley Halley is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds.

      Next up is ninth-ranked Gainesville (23-4) on Wednesday night in Lebanon. Can you find Gainesville on a map? Have you ever heard of Gainesville?

      "They're very young, but they've got a really good team," Schofield said of the Gainesville, which is located near the Missouri/Arkansas border. "They like to get up and down."

      Iberia will be looking to take the next step on its quest for a second straight trip to the Final Four. Last year was the school's first trip in 45 years.

      "Of course, we all want to go back, but you have to go out and play each game," Schofield said. "It doesn't matter what you did last year.ã??But I'm hoping that experience will help us.ã??

      "This team is still a big thing in our community. We draw well at home, now, and that all started last year. Kids know what's going on and they're enjoying it."

      As they should.


      WHAT'S BETTER THAN WINNINGã??a district championship?

      Winning two.

      Central Missouri will have 16 schools and 17 teams competing in the postseason (pairings below), as Fatima will send both the Comets and Lady Comets to Wednesday night's Class 3 sectionals in Rolla.

      "The guys and the girls on the same bus ... I think it lightens the mood and takes away a lot of the pressure," Lady Comets coach Dustin Hays said. "That's going to help us out quite a bit, I think.

      "And we're going to have a big crowd in Rolla, so I'm really looking forward to it."

      On paper, the unranked Lady Comets (22-5) might be considered underdogs to No. 8 Licking (25-2). In reality, that's not the case.

      Fatima lost by seven points to second-ranked Hermann on Jan. 26, and has since won 12 straight. The other four losses --- two to Owensville, two to a pair of Class 5 schools in the State Farm Holiday Tournament at Helias --- were by a combined 10 points.

      In the district title game, the Lady Comets beatã??top-ranked St. James --- which finished third at last year's state tournament --- by a comfortable 66-54.

      Fatima not being ranked is simply silly. But then again, the only state ranking that really matter is the one at the end of the season.

      "We really don't pay much attention to the rankings," Hays said.

      Licking will offer a different challenge, Hays said, than the one Fatima faced in St. James.

      "They're the exact opposite of St. James," he said. "St. James tries to speed you up with full court pressure; Licking wants to slow it down, play a zone and pack it in.

      "It's going to be a much different game, we just have stay focused."

      The present is very good for this team; the future could be even better, as there's only one senior on the roster.

      "It's very exciting, the future definitely looks bright," Hays said. "But it's not easy to do this and you're not guaranteed to get back here next year.

      "Don't take it for granted. Keep working hard and let's make it happen this year."

      Speaking of making it happen ... while basketball is certainly a team game, this team wouldn't be where it is without 5-10 junior Morgan Brandt.

      She is, in a word, fabulous.

      "She makes everybody around her better," Hays said. "You have a lot of players who are great scorers or great rebounders, but she does it all for our team."

      Her averages are anything but --- 21.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.9 steals, 3.2 steals. 3.2 assists, all team highs.

      "She makes us go, she is our motor," Hays said. "She's just a very special player."

      Brandt is a special player on a special team that could do some really, special things.

      "I think our girls, right now, have the confidence that they can beat anybody in the state," Hays said. "We just beat the No. 1 team in the state, but that's behind us now.

      "We want to keep going."

      Here are the first-round pairings involving area teams, including state ranking (if ranked). Class 1 games will be played Tuesday; Classes 2-3 will play Wednesday. Girls games start at 6 p.m., boys games at 7:45.


      Class 3

      No. 1 Eugene (25-1) vs. Palmyra (22-5) at Mexico

      Fatima (19-8) vs. No. 4 Hartville (25-2) at Rolla

      Montgomery County (21-5) vs. No. 2 Cardinal Ritter (17-5) at St. Charles

      Class 2

      No. 1 Sacred Heart (27-0) vs. Skyline (20-7) at Clinton

      Father Tolton (19-7) vs. Linn (16-11) at Fleming Fieldhouse

      No. 5 Iberia (26-1) vs. No. 9 Gainesville (23-4) at Lebanon

      Class 1

      No. 8 Macks Creek (22-5) vs. Fair Play (13-14) at Springfield

      Community (18-6) vs. Marion County (18-6) at Sturgeon

      Pilot Grove (23-5) vs. Drexel (19-8) at Sedalia


      Class 3

      No. 2 Hermann (25-1) vs. No. 4 Cardinal Ritter (21-2) at St. Charles

      Fatima (22-5) vs. No. 8 Licking (25-2) at Rolla

      Boonville (26-3) vs. No. 3 Palmyra (26-2) at Mexico

      Class 2

      New Bloomfield (15-11) vs. No. 5 New Franklin (26-1) at Fleming Fieldhouse

      Class 1

      No. 7 St. Elizabeth (20-7) vs. No. 3 Walnut Grove (24-4) at Springfield

      Bunceton (22-6) vs. No. 6 Drexel (25-4) at Sedalia