CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Bluejays return to the MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown for the fourth straight year, chasing the state championship that has eluded them the past 10 seasons.
No doubt, with a runner-up finish in 2005 and two third-place finishes the previous two years, the Bluejays own a record that most programs would envy.
But, this is the Charleston Bluejays.
Nine state championship banners fly from the Charleston Field House rafters -- third-best in Missouri high school playoff history -- but none have been raised since the '96 season.
"I would love to get it (championship)," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "It's nice to go, but it's not fun to keep going and not getting it. You want to get it."
Farmer, 188-77 in his nine years at Charleston, is seeking his first boys title but is no stranger to state championships, having won five as the girls coach at Scott County Central.
The Bluejays played their usual tough schedule and appear primed to make a strong run at a title.
They rolled past district opponents, Greenville, Clearwater and Kelly, by an average margin of 26.6 points, then avenged an earlier blowout loss to state-
ranked Doniphan with a 58-42 sectional win.
In the quarterfinal against Miller Career Academy, the Bluejays romped, with a near-perfect first-half performance, to an 85-54 victory.
Long on talent and experience, the Bluejays returned four starters from last season led by junior Jamarcus Williams, a second team all-stater as a sophomore.
Williams, a 6-foot-5, 210 pounder, has been a starter since his freshman year and has put up consistent numbers throughout his career. This season, he averages a team-leading 18.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Justin Clark, a 6-3, 170-pound junior swingman, can light it up from anywhere on the court. He's second on the team with 14.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg, while leading the 'Jays with 66 3-pointers.
"I can tell from the intensity in practice that the hunger is there in Jamarcus and the other kids that were on the team last year," said Farmer. "It's a different Jamarcus, a different Justin. They don't plan to just get there."
Shawn Sherrell, a lightning-quick 5-9 junior point guard, is the 'Jays offensive catalyst. Sherrell, now at full strength after suffering through a bothersome thigh injury for parts of the season, sets the Charleston offense with a team-
high 103 assists (4.7 per game) and scores 11.5 ppg.
The fourth returning starter, senior forward Josh Thompson, is the team's X-
factor. Thompson, not a scoring threat, contributes in the "intangible" department -- taking charges, scrapping for loose balls and playing tough defense.
Senior Tavis Hamilton, a 6-foot guard, has stepped into a starting role with impact. Hamilton, a high-energy player, has made his presence felt on both the offensive and defensive ends. The team leader in steals, he's also chipped in with 10.6 ppg and 3.4 rpg.
Off the bench, the 'Jays Antonio Riggens, a feisty 5-8 freshman, creates havoc defensively with his quickness and instincts. In recent games, his scoring has also picked up.
Brian Parham, a 6-3 sophomore, has developed into a reliable frontcourt substitute as his minutes have increased late in the season.
Mt. Vernon (24-4), the Bluejays' semifinal opponent, reached the final four with a 32-31 nod over Linn in its Class 3 quarterfinal.
The Mountaineers also boast a second-team all-stater in 6-2 junior Tomas Brock, son of coach Skip Brock. Brock leads the Mountaineers with 18.1 ppg and has dished a team-high 116 assists.
Josh Kleine, a 6-7, 215-pound senior post, merits attention with averages of 14.8 ppg and 10.1 rpg.
Senior guard Tyler Stewart (4.2 ppg), junior guard Ethan Trokey (7.7 ppg) and senior forward Brett Vaughn (4.4 ppg) round out the starting five.
Farmer said Mt. Vernon's slow-down tactics concern him. As a team, the Mountaineers average 52.4 while allowing 43.6 ppg. They won a first-round district game over Hollister by a 19-17 score.
In comparison, the Bluejays average 67.1 and allow 55.7 ppg.
"What scares me is that they score so few points," said Farmer. "I'm trying to figure that out. I don't know if it's their style of play or what, but I don't think they play the caliber of teams we play on an every-night basis."
In the other Class 3 semifinal, Cardinal Ritter (26-3) faces Cameron (27-3).
Farmer and assistants Randy Thompson and Roosevelt Mitchell have taken a peek at the potential final matchup.
"We've done something that we've never done before and that's kind of look ahead a little at both of those teams (Cardinal Ritter and Cameron)," said Farmer. "Of course, we'll get to see their semifinal game, too."
But, no matter what the opposition does, Farmer believes it's, ultimately, what the Bluejays do that really counts.
"At this point in the year, you've got to play your game," he said. "If we come to play and have a good game, we don't think that anybody can beat us. Our goal is to play two good games. If we can get our key people playing well in those two games, we'll be o.k."
"Physically, everybody is sound and the attitude is great," added Farmer. "It's late March and we're still working hard. We're working as if we want to be the state champion."
The Charleston/Mt. Vernon semifinal tips off at 7:40 p.m. on Friday at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
The final is scheduled for Saturday at 6:05 p.m.