The Charleston Bluejays advanced to the Class 3 championship game with a hard-fought 49-44 semifinal victory against Bowling Green Thursday morning at Mizzou Arena.
Charleston, which is in the championship game for the third straight year, will try to win its first state title since 1996. The Bluejays played Pembroke Hill today in the championship. Results from that game will be in Sunday's edition.
"We're thrilled -- we just want to win it this time," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "We want to win it. Hopefully we come out tomorrow and play a great game."
The Bluejays trailed by as much as nine points early in the game, but regrouped to take the lead in the second quarter. Charleston (28-3) appeared poised to blow Bowling Green out in the third quarter, opening up a 37-23 lead in the third quarter, but the Bobcats would never go away.
Led by sharp-shooting sophomore Brandon McCann, the Bobcats finished the quarter on a 12-0 run to cut the Bluejay lead to 37-35.
Charleston managed to hold off the Bobcats (24-4) the entire fourth quarter, never allowing Bowling Green to get any closer than two points.
The Bluejays hit just enough free throws to keep the Bobcats at bay, making 8-of 13 in the fourth quarter and 10-18 in the game.
"I was pleased in the end we made our free throws," said Farmer. "That was the difference in the game at the end. They're a very competitive team -- they came to play. We've been here before so we knew what to do in the end."
Using a methodical, patient offense, Bowling Green raced out to an 11-2 lead to start the game after three consecutive 3-pointers by McCann. The Bobcats managed a 13-4 lead, but Charleston cut the lead to 13-9 by the end of the quarter.
"I was very concerned in the first quarter," said Farmer.
Charleston took control of the game in the second quarter, out-scoring Bowling Green 14-4. Justin Clark's offensive putback at the buzzer gave the Bluejays a 23-17 halftime edge.
"They just have some tremendous athletes -- it was hard to box them out," said Bowling Green head coach Trevor Hibbs. "They're quick.. You have to give them credit. Look at the schedule they played. They've blown a lot of teams out. They're tremendous ballclub."
Charleston started the third quarter with a 14-6 run to take the biggest lead of the game by either team at 37-23 with 3:10 left in the period. But as quick as the Bluejays grabbed the big lead, Bowling Green was right back in it capped by McCann's 3-pointer just before the buzzer to trim the margin to 37-35.
McCann finished with a game-high 22 points, including 6-8 from downtown.
"He's a tremendous shooter," said Farmer of McCann. "Every time you
come up here you find somebody that's unreal. He played a great game."
Charleston stopped Bowling Green's momentum time and again in the fourth quarter. Three different times the Bobcats cut the lead to two points in the fourth quarter and each time Bluejay senior Shawn Sherrell stepped up, twice making long jumpers and sinking a pair of free throws the other time.
"The whole year, at the end of a game, Shawn knows when we need a big bucket he needs to step up and that's what he did," said Farmer.
Bowling Green's best chance to tie the game came with 47 seconds left when Charleston's Jerquawn Sherrell made 1-2 free throws to extend the lead to 47-44. Bowling Green worked for a shot, but McCann turned the ball over when he thought Adam Coleman was cutting backdoor with 33 seconds left. It was one of 23 turnovers by the Bobcats. Charleston only had 12 turnovers.
"They have an amazing defense," said McCann of Charleston. "It was hard to get offense against it. Turnovers kind of killed us."
Charleston sealed it from there as Clark iced the game with two free throws with 28 seconds left.
Clark led the Bluejays with 15 points, five rebounds and three steals. Williams added 12 points and four rebounds. Shawn Sherrell had 11 points. Senior Jerell Quinn didn't attempt a shot, but he was strong on the boards, with a team-high eight rebounds and also played solid defense, picking up two steals with a block.
"We didn't play our best offensively this morning," said Farmer. "We average 73 points per game offensively playing a tough schedule. But our defense is always there. We stress defense. We believe a lot in our defense. We want teams to earn every bucket."
Bowling Green shot 17-39 from the field overall and were 6-18 from 3-point range. Ben Hartung, a 6-6 junior, added 10 points with six rebound and a pair of dunks for the Bobcats.
Charleston shot 19-48 from the field, but were just 1-7 from 3-point range.
Bowling Green out-rebounded the Bluejays 32-27.
For Clark, Shawn Sherrell and Jamarcus Williams, this is their fourth final four appearance and third championship game. "I've had three chances," said Williams. "This is my last year and this year we want to take full advantage. Tomorrow is huge. It's the last game of my high school career. I just want to leave it all on the court. We're ready."