After barely eking out a 63-58 win last week in the district championship against Scott City, the Bluejays were on the ropes once again in Wednesday night's Class 3 Sectional game against Caruthersville at Poplar Bluff High School.
But some clutch free throw shooting and two big defensive stops down the stretch allowed the Bluejays to defeat the Tigers 66-65.
Charleston (25-3), ranked third in the state, advances to the Class 4 Quarterfinal game at the Farmington Civic Center on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. where they will play Career Academy (17-9).
Like they have done so many times for so many years, the Bluejays found a way to win when the game was on the line.
"I'm just happy to get out of Bluff with a win," said a relieved Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "All year we've been in so many tight battles. If you're trying to make it to that state championship, you're going to have to win some close games. Games like this build character."
Caruthersville (20-9), ranked No. 8 in the state, was in control for much of the game and held a 63-62 lead with 30 seconds left against the Bluejays.
Charleston's Marcus Biles was fouled on a drive to the basket with 23 seconds left. He made both free throws to give the Bluejays a one-point lead.
On the ensuing possession, Caruthersville's Kyle Hubbard, who finished with a team-high 19 points, made a couple of nice moves to get in the lane, but he found himself surrounded by defenders.
Hubbard lost control of the ball and it landed in Biles' hands, who was fouled with 11 seconds left. The senior point guard came through again, hitting two more free throws to lead 66-63.
"He may have gotten a little ahead of himself," said Caruthersville head coach Brian Brandtner of Hubbard's turnover. "Some of that was due to mis-positioning of another player. Stuff like that happens. I'd rather make mistakes taking it to them than sitting back on our heels."
Caruthersville had one last chance to tie but Chad Benson's off-balance 3-pointer was well off the mark.
Junior forward Plessie Ellitt tipped in the missed shot with one second left but the Tigers were out of timeouts and were helpless to stop the clock.
"Caruthersville kept fighting and fighting," said Farmer. "I knew they would come to play. They're really quick. Our gameplan was to try to stop dribble penetration. We did it a little, but they kept coming at us."
The game was a see-saw battle that had eight ties and 16 lead changes. No team had a lead greater than six points.
Charleston jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the first quarter but the Tigers rallied, taking an 11-10 lead after one.
The Tigers led by as much as five in the second quarter but couldn't pull away as they still led by one, 29-28 at the half.
The Bluejays scored the first six points of the third quarter to take a 34-29 lead. Charleston held the biggest lead of the game by either team at 36-30 with a little over four minutes remaining.
But the Tigers responded, going on an 11-0 run capped by a Hubbard 3-pointer with 1:20 left in the third quarter to take a 41-36 lead.
Caruthersville tied the biggest lead of the game when they led 44-38 with 37 seconds left in the third, but three straight Charleston points closed the gap by the end of the period.
Charleston freshman Jamarcus Williams, who finished the game with 15 points and eight rebounds, hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie things up at the start of the fourth.
The unexpected shot from downtown was just the beginning of an exciting, action-packed fourth quarter between the two teams.
Caruthersville was able to build the lead back up to 48-44, before seeing Charleston come back with five straight points of their own to retake the lead.
The two teams continued to exchange leads throughout the rest of the fourth quarter. In all, there were eight lead changes in the final period.
In the waning minutes, Charleston's Ashton Farmer completed a conventional 3-point play with 1:26 left to take a 62-59 lead.
A Marshane Foreman drive to the basket cut the lead to one with 1:03 left. After trying to run some clock, Farmer tried to follow up his own missed shot but was called for going over the back, his fifth personal foul with 30 seconds left.
Caruthersville's Dominic Branch then sank two free throws to give the Tigers their last lead of the game.
"It could've been disastrous," said Coach Farmer of his son's foul problems. "But things just kept on working out. We hit some big 3s and the kids really wanted to win."
Farmer finished with a game-high 20 points.
"I thought he played a great game," said Brandtner. "I thought he faced up and scored over people better than he has sometimes. I thought he was very physical tonight. He misdirected a lot of our shots down there. He's a playmaker out there."
Charleston got another huge game out of its trio of freshmen, Williams, Shawn Sherrell and Justin Clark. The three combined to score 25 points, including 11 of the Bluejays' 25 fourth quarter points.
"They're great -- coming into the postseason I knew I would have to depend on those freshmen heavily," said Farmer. "They're very skilled. They can shoot the ball, dribble the ball and do those things well. Their weakness is their defense, but we're working on that. If we go all the way, we're going to really need them."
Charleston, which played without third-leading scorer Joshua Strayhorn due to a kidney infection, had trouble matching up with the quickness and athleticism of Caruthersville.
The Tigers' two lightening quick guards, Benson and Foreman, consistently broke down the Bluejay defense off the dribble, setting up their teammates with open looks.
After Hubbard, Ellitt followed up with 10 points and eight rebounds.
In addition to Farmer and Williams' big nights, Charleston also got 15 points out of Biles. The Bluejays had one of their best nights of the year from the free throw line, making 17-of-21.
For Caruthersville, it was a heartbreaking defeat for the second time this year to Charleston. The Tigers lost to the Bluejays 50-49 on Dec. 19.
"Pushing a team and losing doesn't feel real good right now to tell you the truth," said Brandtner. "But that doesn't take away how proud I am of them. People said we couldn't play with them. People said we couldn't win the Superman Classic. People said we couldn't win our district or beat Portageville. And we answered the call. I really had a good feeling that we were going to tonight."
Brandtner paused for a moment, "But, you know, a great team beat us tonight."