Sikeston showed its strong nerve in a district semifinal two-point win against Dexter when they trailed by seven late in the fourth quarter, and they showed it again on Tuesday night in a sectional game against Hillsboro, trailing by 10 in the third quarter.
But as they have done numerous times before, the Bulldogs dug deep for a little extra when it mattered most, and rallied past Hillsboro with a huge fourth quarter to win its Class 4 sectional game 70-56 at the Farmington Civic Center.
But it took a massive fourth quarter from the Bulldogs on Tuesday to set up its rematch with Vashon, who defeated Sikeston in last year's state semifinals 69-66 in overtime.
"I knew going in that Hillsboro was a very good team. I knew they would be difficult to play against," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "They did a good job early. Our guys battled back and played great in the fourth quarter."
Sikeston out-scored Hillsboro 32-14 in the fourth quarter to overcome a 42-38 deficit entering the quarter.
Sikeston junior Fred Thatch, who has been battling flu-like symptoms over the past few days, scored 13 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter to ignite the Bulldogs.
"He's been battling the flu and you could tell he wasn't himself tonight, but in the fourth quarter he really played well," Holifield said. "I thought we really picked our intensity up. Our players just have that ability -- they refuse to give in in those situations and I thought we really played well as a team."
Sikeston began the quarter with a 3-pointer by Kevin Jones to trim the lead to 42-41. The Bulldogs tied the game at 46-46 on a conventional 3-point play by Thatch with 6:14 left in the game.
The Bulldogs began to establish firm control of the game from there.
Hillsboro's Austin Fleming cut the Sikeston lead to 52-48, but Thatch answered with a pair of free throws and an inside basket to increase the lead to 56-48 with 3:30 left.
Hillsboro's Gaven Pinkley, a 6-foot-8 junior with numerous Division I college offers, hit two free throws to cut the Hawks' deficit to six with 3:18 left, but Thatch answered with two more free throws.
Mills then scored inside off a feed from Jones and Thatch scored inside again to extend Sikeston's lead to 62-50 with 1:30 left in the game to essentially seal the victory for the Bulldogs much to the approval of the huge contingent of fans that made the long trip to Farmington.
Hillsboro (25-4), which was ranked 10th in the latest state poll, got no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Sikeston helped itself by going 11 of 11 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, including five straight from Thatch. The Bulldogs were 20 of 22 (91 percent) from the line in the game.
Hillsboro had six turnovers in the fourth quarter -- they had 15 in the game -- and the Hawks shot 2 of 10 from the field in the fourth quarter.
"I think we missed a few layups that we were making the whole game and we missed a few passes that we were executing the whole game," Johnson said. "But a lot of that had to do with the cumulative effect of the Sikeston pressure. It's super hard to execute it physically and mentally for 32 minutes. I think we got about 26 minutes out of it tonight."
Sikeston started the game well, taking a 6-0 lead behind the inside presence of 6-foot-6 sophomore Trey Jenkins, who provided all six points.
But Hillsboro quickly swung the momentum into its favor by using the long-ball, draining three straight 3-pointers, sandwiched between a Jones 3-pointer, to tie things up at 9-9 after one quarter.
Jenkins hit 1 of 2 from the free throw line to start the second quarter, but Hillsboro's Garrett Lampkins hit his third 3-pointer to give the Hawks a 12-10 lead that they would hold the rest of the half.
Jones scored a driving layup with five seconds left in the half trimmed the Hillsboro lead to 21-19 heading into the locker rooms.
"Everything that could go right for us was going right," Johnson said. "We were getting all the 50-50 bounces and all the 50-50 calls. That's something we had to have happen for us and it did."
But that was about to change as he tallied 20 points in the second half.
Sikeston held a brief 24-23 lead early in the third quarter after a Phayzun Fobbs layup, but Hillsboro responded with an 11-0 run capped by a conventional 3-point play by Isaiah Martin to lead 34-24 with 4:21 left in the third.
The Bulldogs didn't falter as Jones scored his own 3-point play on the ensuing possession. Sikeston eventually cut the lead to 42-38 after a Thatch 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer to give his team some much-needed momentum.
"That was a big shot," Holifield said of Thatch's 3-pointer. "We were needing a boost and that gave us a shot in the arm. That shot made things much more manageable in the fourth quarter for us."
Sikeston continued that momentum into the fourth with its dominant finish to close out the Hawks, who were making their first playoff appearance since 2011 and just their second since 1988.
"We knew we couldn't turn the ball over and we knew we would have to play our best game of the year for a chance to win, and we did that for three quarters," Johnson said. "Sikeston's tough. They don't have many holes. They've got a great coach and they fight to the end. They weren't scared when they got down 10. They weren't scared when they were down four going into the fourth quarter. That was obvious. At the end of the 32 minutes they were the best team and we wish them luck going forward."
Hillsboro was led by Martin's 18 points. Pinkley finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
While Sikeston struggled offensively for most of the night, Holifield was pleased with his team's defense.
"I thought we really played well defensively. To hold them to 34 percent shooting is a huge advantage," Holifield said.
Sikeston out-rebounded the bigger Hawks lineup 29 to 26.
To go with his 22 points, Thatch had five rebounds, two assists and six steals.
Jones finished with 17 points, four rebounds, five assists and four steals. Jenkins had 10 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots.
Mills had another big game off the bench, scoring eight points, including six in the fourth quarter. He also had seven rebounds. Fobbs scored eight points with all coming in the second half.
Sikeston shot 23 of 55 (42 percent) from the field and 4 of 12 (33 percent) from 3-point range and they had nine turnovers in the game.
Now Sikeston moves on to the quarterfinal to face defending Class 4 state champion Vashon. This is the eighth time in the last 12 years that Sikeston has reached the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs.
"We know it's going to be a really difficult game," Holifield said. "[Vashon] has maybe the best talent in the state of Missouri and they're a great team. But I know my guys will prepare and work hard this week. I know they will be focused."
HILLSBORO (56) -- Isaiah Martin 18, Gaven Pinkley 16, Garrett Lampkins 9, Michael Brewer 8, Austin Fleming 5. FG 18, FT 13-18, F 13. (3-pointers: Lampkins 3, Martin 2, Fleming 1, Pinkley 1. Fouled out: none).
SIKESTON (70) -- Fred Thatch 22, Kevin Jones 17, Trey Jenkins 10, Phayzun Fobbs 8, Dylon Mills 8, Jason Moore 5. FG 23, FT 20-22, F 16. (3-pointers: Jones 2, Moore 1, Thatch 1. Fouled out: Jenkins).