By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
EWING, Mo. -- The Canton boys basketball team gave its fans a moment of trepidation late in the first half Wednesday night.
The Tigers had trouble closing out the half as Cairo Northeast cut a 14-point lead to two just.
But as it turned out, there was nothing to worry about.
"We were fine," Canton senior David McReynolds said. "We let them have that good run. It was our turn to answer."
The Tigers did so emphatically. A 19-4 run in the third quarter helped Canton pull away for an 81-70 victory in the Class 2 sectional game at Highland High School.
It sends Canton to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006. The Tigers (27-1) will play Salisbury, which is also 27-1 following a 77-47 victory over Russellville, at noon Saturday at Moberly Area Community College.
Wednesday's game came down to making adjustments.
Canton zeroed in on the Bearcats' high-scoring duo of Brad Roberts and Aaron Barratt. Neither player found their rhythm until the fourth quarter.
Barratt scored a game-high 35 points, 17 in the fourth quarter. Roberts finished with 19 points, four below his season average.
"We tried to contain them as much as we could," said Canton sophomore Gabe McKenzie, who drew the primary responsibility defending Roberts. "We knew they would get their points, but we wanted to make sure they didn't hurt us too much."
The Tigers concentrated on their strength -- an up-tempo game.
Cairo (24-5) took its second lead of the game when Barratt's 3-pointer made the score 30-29 on the first possession of the third quarter. The Bearcats missed their next six shots which gave the Tigers the opportunity to score 12 straight points, taking a 41-30 lead on Brandon Berhorst's steal and layup with 4:54 left in the quarter.
The Tigers eventually took a 54-37 lead when Tyler Niemann scored on back-to-back possessions in the final minute of the quarter.
"We wanted to keep the tempo fast-paced, and we did that in the second half," Canton coach Andy Anderson said. "We did a little bit of that in the first half, but we got a little down on ourselves late in the half. We got away from that for a while."
Canton had control, taking a 27-13 lead when Berhorst rebounded Cameron Durst's missed shot and scored with 3:38 left in the first half. Niemann and Austin Hoewing both picked up their third foul during the final minutes of the first half while the Bearcats closed the half with a 14-2 run to cut the halftime lead to 29-27.
"It was a game of runs," said Niemann, who scored 19 points. "We didn't do a great job of handling ourselves late in the first half, but we were all right in the second half. They'd knock down a big shot, then we'd make one. We did a great job attacking the basket. That's an important part of our attack."
It's led to the Tigers' deepest postseason run in seven years.
"I remember watching that team (in 2006) and thinking how great it would be to be like them one day," said McReynolds, who had 17 points. "It's something everyone wanted to do. Come out and play with Canton across our chests."
If Canton can beat Salisbury, it will be their first-ever trip to the final four.
"Making this run means a lot," Anderson said. "Going into districts, it seemed like we were kind of lethargic, like we weren't that excited to be out there. That's turned around a lot. This team is ready to get after it. I'm extremely proud of them."