But that appeared to be the case on Saturday evening as the Cardinal Ritter Lions defeated the Bluejays in the Class 3 state championship game, 67-55 at Mizzou Arena.
It's Ritter's fifth state championship and the school's first since 2003. For Charleston, it's another disappointing finish after reaching the state semifinals for the fourth straight year, finishing second the last two seasons. They also took third in 2003 and 2004.
But while the team fell short of its goal of a state title, coach Danny Farmer had a positive outlook on the situation.
"It's a great honor to finish second -- we understand that," said Farmer. "The kids want to finish first all the time. But we do realize it's a great honor to be here and have a chance to play here. Especially getting here four years in a row. We really feel honored and feel that we've accomplished something to do that. But you want to win. We're disappointed. Very disappointed. But Cardinal Ritter deserved the game. We were out-played."
Cardinal Ritter (28-3) led from start to finish. Charleston did manage to tie the game once in the second quarter, but they never could overtake the quicker Lions, who seemed to get every loose ball and beat the Bluejays down the floor for transition baskets.
"They were a lot quicker than they looked, especially the two bigger guys 22 (DeAndre Gilmore) and 14 (Marquis Jones). They were quick for their size and that gave us some trouble."
But perhaps the biggest difference was the Lions' defense. Charleston didn't get many open shots in the first half and when they finally did get good looks, the Bluejays rushed their shots and couldn't find the mark.
"We didn't get too many open looks and they kind of pushed the offense out a little," said Farmer. "They were a lot quicker. But we got our looks in the thirdquarter and we had our chances, but it just didn't fall our way."
Ritter bolted out to an 11-4 lead, but Charleston regrouped to cut the deficit to 13-12 by quarter's end.
The Lions again opened up a 23-17 lead as they made some difficult, off-
balance shots and got some offensive tips.
But Charleston tied it at 23-23 on back-to-back 3-pointers by freshman Antonio Riggens from almost the exact same spot in the left corner.
Ritter was able to stop Charleston's momentum as Jones answered with a 3-
pointer. It was the beginning of a second quarter-ending 11-3 run.
The big blow came from Gilmore as he took the inbounds pass with 4.2 seconds left, quickly made his way across halfcourt, and drained a long 3-
pointer at the buzzer to propel the Lions to a 34-26 halftime edge.
Gilmore, whose 28-footer crushed Cameron's state-title hopes at the end of regulation in a 51-48 semifinal victory Friday night, said he is comfortable in quarter-ending situations.
"Most of the time I've got the ball when the clock is going down, and I shoot the last shot," said Gilmore. "I'm used to doing that anyway. It wasn't no problem shooting it. It felt good when it left my hand again. Big momentum going into the second half."
The momentum carried over into the third quarter as Ritter opened up a 16-
point lead on two difference occasions, with the last coming on a Jones fastbreak layup to make it 44-28.
But Charleston wouldn't go quietly.
The Bluejays ended the third quarter with a 10-1 run with Justin Clark burying a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to make it 45-38 heading into the final frame.
After a Ritter basket to start the fourth, Clark added another 3-pointer and 6
-5 junior Jamarcus Williams converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to, all of a sudden, cut the Lions' lead to 47-44.
The Bluejays appeared to have all the momentum.
But Cardinal Ritter responded.
Laird Bowers scored his own conventional 3-point play. Charleston never got closer than six the rest of the way as the Lions took care of business from the free-throw line down the stretch.
"I think if we could've gotten the lead right there in the third quarter, maybe, the momentum of the game might have changed," said Farmer.
Ritter made 21-of-26 free throws in the game while the Bluejays were just 9
Charleston was just 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and were just 4-23 from downtown in the entire game.
By comparison, Charleston was 6-14 from 3-point range in Friday's 65-60 semifinal win against Mount Vernon.
Charleston held a slight edge in the rebounding department at 39-37, including 17 on the offensive end. But the Bluejays' 35 percent shooting from the field and 15 turnovers proved to be too much to overcome.
"We work hard on defense and pride ourselves with our defense bec ause we're not the biggest team in the world," said veteran Cardinal Ritter coach Marvin Neals, who has won three state championships, including one in Class 4A at Soldan in 1981.
Gilmore finished with a game-high 23 points, going 12-14 from the free throw line. Jones added 22 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. The smallest player on the floor, 5-foot-5 Ritter sophomore Darian Jones, had five points and a team-high 10 rebounds while spending most of the evening defending Charleston point guard Shawn Sherrell.
Clark led the Bluejays with 15 points, but was just 2-10 from beyond the arc and 5-17 overall from the field.
Williams finished with a double-double, with 11 points and 15 rebounds, but he had trouble getting good looks against the athletic Ritter lineup.
Sophomore reserve Brian Parham came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 10 rebounds.
Sherrell added nine points with five rebounds.
Bluejay senior Tavis Hamilton was limited to zero points while battling foul problems all night. He was a catalyst in Friday's semifinal win when he scored 17 points while shooting a perfect 4-4 from 3-point range.
Charleston (24-8) will have to replace Hamilton and senior starter Josh Thompson.
"We have the nucleus of our team coming back," said Farmer. "We're going to miss Tavis and Josh. Without those two we wouldn't be here. There's a lot of invisible things that happen in the game of basketball and Tavis and Josh provide that. But on our chances of coming back -- we like our chances."