POPLAR BLUFF - A showdown of Class 3 powers will take place at Poplar Bluff High School on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m., as the Charleston Bluejays face off against the No. 5 ranked Doniphan Dons in the sectionals.
Charleston (21-7) defeated Kelly 70-50 in the District 2 final, while the Dons blew past Twin Rivers in the District 1 final, 75-57.
The playoff history of the two teams clearly favors Charleston. The Bluejays have won 25 district titles and have nine state titles in the treasure chest. Last season, Charleston finished second in Class 3, losing to Lutheran North 72
-63. Four starters return from last year's squad for the Bluejays.
Doniphan's state resume is not on par with Charleston. The Dons' only sniff of the state finals was back in 1934 when Doniphan finished third. The Dons have won nine district titles, the last besides this year, came in 2003.
Doniphan (26-3) appears to be the favorite heading into the contest, after dismantling the Bluejays a couple of weeks ago at home, 68-34. However, coach Danny Farmer of the Bluejays believes the second matchup of the teams could deliver a different outcome.
"We are more focused after the loss to Doniphan," said Farmer. "I think we woke up and have been playing some good ball as of late. (Tavis) Hamilton and (Antonio) Riggens didn't play last time out against Doniphan. We are at full strength and playing well."
The Bluejays are going to have to contend with 6-foot-10 senior center Matt Rogers of the Dons. Rogers is a shot-blocking machine who can get 10 blocks in a contest and is extremely athletic for his size.
"Rogers played great in the last game against us and we have to limit his offensive output if we hope to win," said Farmer. "Rogers is going to get his because of his size. We have to take away their other weapons that can hurt us on the offensive end."
While Rogers is more of a defensive stopper for Doniphan, the Dons do have multiple options on the offensive end. Adam Carpenter, a 6-1 junior, scored 30 points in the district final against Twin Rivers and can light it up from the outside.
Twins Charles and Chandler Wilson, both 6-0 sophomores, are also deadly from the perimeter and they can each fill it up if left alone. Nick Webb, a 6-2 junior, is a low post threat for Doniphan and takes the heat away from Rogers in the frontcourt. Jason Switzer, a 6-2 senior, brings size and physical play for the Dons in the paint.
"Besides Rogers," said Farmer, "Webb played an outstanding game for Doniphan and he can be a load to handle. Doniphan has some good guards who can drain the 3-pointer from any area on the court. The Wilsons are threats on the court and we have to locate their shooters, they have a lot. Doniphan has six or seven players that score big on any given night."
Charleston is led by 6-5 junior forward Jamarcus Williams. On the season, Williams is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. Close to unstoppable in the paint, Williams will be counted on to lead the Bluejays.
"We are best when we get the ball inside," said Farmer. "Jamarcus is very hard to stop in the post but he will have some problems scoring against the 6-10 kid. We are going to have the shoot the ball well from the outside to take the pressure off the inside game."
Sophomore Shawn Sherrell is a cat-quick point guard who can disrupt the guard play of the opposing team. Sherrell is averaging 12 points, five assists and five steals per game. In the Charleston vaunted fullcourt pressure, Sherrell is a major force.
Senior Tavis Hamilton is a perimeter defensive stopper for the Bluejays and is averaging 11 points, four rebounds and four steals per game for Charleston. Blue collar Josh Thompson has put up six points and five rebounds per game this season, but those stats tell half the story.
Thompson is all over the floor and does the dirty work for the Bluejays like taking charges, diving for loose balls and plays good, solid post defense. Thompson looks to be in good shape after breaking a bone in his lower leg in December.
Off the bench for the Bluejays, freshman guard Antonio Riggens has posted numbers of six points and four steals a game this season. Riggens is another defensive stalwart for Charleston and can light it up if left alone in the backcourt.
Charleston has gotten some help from the junior varsity with 6-3 sophomore forward Brian Parham, who has scored five points a game in limited time on the varsity. Farmer likes the way Parham is playing at the end of the year for the Bluejays.
For Farmer, the keys to the game are simple -- defend and score.
"We have to shoot well from the outside and defend," said Farmer," if we can do those two things, I feel we can win. We have got to get out on their shooters and keep them from getting hot. They beat us last time because they were hitting their outside shots."
Farmer feels that his club has to pressure the Dons at every point on the floor. Fullcourt man pressure will be used, as Farmer hopes the defensive pressure will negate the presence of Rogers. Farmer admits that the Bluejays will mix in some zone defense at times in the contest.
On offense, Charleston will make Doniphan defend four players on the outside and will leave one player in the post.
"We have been working on some different things on offense and defense," said Farmer. "Last game out, Doniphan scored 68 points against us without our two key players. At full strength, I feel we can score more than 68 points. We are going to take it right at Rogers. He (Rogers) likes to stand off and then make the big block. We are going to go at him. Right at him. He (Rogers) is going to block some shots but we will not back off."
Farmer is not too shy about how he feels about his club.
"We are playing some good ball right now," said Farmer. "The kids are rolling and feeling pretty good. I am confident we can win. But it is going to be a battle."