After a 5-7 start to the season, things certainly didn't look promising for the Bluejays.
But Charleston's season has now come full circle after Wednesday night's 57
-53 Class 3 Sectional win against state-ranked Portageville at Poplar Bluff High School.
Charleston will play Career Academy (23-6) on Saturday in a state quarterfinal game at the Farmington Civic Center at 8:15 p.m.
Portageville, which was playing in its first sectional game since 2000, finishes its season at 22-6.
The Bluejays have now won 15 of their last 17 games with the only losses coming to Class 5 schools Poplar Bluff and Jackson.
Of Charleston's nine losses this season, seven were to out of state opponents or schools in a larger classification.
And here they stand, one game away from their third straight trip to the state final four.
"I think our schedule in the beginning of the season helped us out tonight," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "We play tough people all the time. We believe in that, we don't care about a great record. We just believe in being right here at the end of the season. We're where we want to be so far."
But it hasn't come without a fight.
Playing a Portageville team that had been state ranked for much of the season, Charleston withstood a furious rally by the Bulldogs in the last quarter and a half to pull out the win.
Charleston (20-9) led by as much as 42-18 in the third quarter, but in the final 1:30 of the period, Portageville caught fire. They scored 11 straight points to close out the quarter as Antonio Scott nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, cutting the Bluejay lead to 42-29.
Jordan Penn then scored to start off the fourth quarter to cut the lead to single digits at 42-31, capping a 13-0 run by the Bulldogs.
"Portageville is a relentless team," said Farmer. "They just never give up and that's what we stressed all week. 'They never give up, they never give up, they never give up.' And I was telling them at halftime, 'they're coming back. They're not going to give up.' And that's just Jim. That's just Bidewell. He's a helluva coach. To beat them twice in a year -- we're just proud of that."
Charleston still appeared to be in control as they were able to extend the lead to 50-35 after an inside basket by Jamarcus Williams with a little over four minutes remaining, but Portageville was able to claw back into it.
The Bulldogs went on a 15-3 run to close the gap. All-state point guard Willie Hassell hit a 3-pointer with 1:35 left to cut the lead to 53-48. Then Penn stole the ball and converted a fastbreak layup to make it 53-50 with 1:10 left.
But Bluejay all-state forward Ashton Farmer came up big on the ensuing trip as he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored the putback to extend the lead to 55-50 with 52 seconds left.
After Justin Clark made 1-of-2 free throws with 23 seconds left, Portageville's Jimmy Larry canned a 3-pointer to make it 56-53 with 12 seconds left.
Farmer iced the game by making 1-of-2 free throws with 10 seconds left.
"We dug too deep a hole and couldn't come back," said Bidewell. "If we had a better first half it might've been different. But that's why you play four quarters. I knew we were going to come back because we've done it all year. It was just a matter if we had enough time, and we didn't."
At 6-foot-6, Farmer and the 6-4 Williams towered over the Portageville team, whose tallest starter is 6-foot.
The two combined for 34 points, with Farmer playing a solid all-around game with his future coach, Arkansas State's Dickey Nutt, in attendance.
"They took it inside on us and we got impatient," said Bidewell. "They're a lot bigger than us. We'll have to grow over the summer to compete."
The Bluejays got a boost from junior guard Tavis Hamilton, who helped stretch the Bulldogs' defense by hitting three 3-pointers -- finishing with 13 points.
"That's Tavis, he's streaky -- once he's on, he stays on," said Farmer.
Hassell finished with 18 points, 13 of which came in the second half after he battled foul problems in the first half.
"(Hassell is) a tremendous player -- you can't stop him," said Farmer. "We tried to put a taller guy on him but that didn't work."
Portageville came out of the gates on fire, taking a 7-0 lead capped by Hassell's conventional 3-point play with 5:08 left in the first.
Williams and sophomore point guard Shawn Sherrell then combined to score eight straight points to take an 8-7 lead.
Charleston never trailed again.
Farmer converted a conventional 3-point play and Josh Thompson hit a short jumper from the side to take a 13-7 lead.
Cory Chamberlain's 3-pointer cut the lead to 13-10 by quarter's end.
The Bluejays took control of the game in the second quarter as Hamilton connected on all three of his treys in the period to push the lead to 30-16 by halftime.
The Bluejays started the third quarter on a 12-2 run and looked poised to run Portageville out of the gym.
But the senior-laden Bulldogs made it interesting down the stretch with some hot shooting.
Portageville hit eight 3-pointers in the game.
"We got the lead and went to a zone and thought they may struggle with the zone, but they shot the ball probably as well as they've ever shot it," said Farmer. "We bring the best out of them I guess. They're a very good team. We're just happy to get out of this area. It's just so tough to get out of this area. Night in and night it, it's a battle."
It's the fourth straight year Charleston has hit the 20-win mark and it's the fifth time it's happened since Farmer took over the program in 1997.