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Saturday, Sep. 20, 2014

Bluejays bask in glory

Sunday, March 25, 2007

(Photo)
Charleston players hold the first place trophy.
CHARLESTON -- For most schools, simply qualifying for the MSHSAA state semifinals four years in a row would be considered a monumental achievement.

For the Charleston boys basketball team, just reaching the final four isn't good enough. The Bluejays have to win it all.

At a school where success is measured by how many first place banners are hanging, finally capturing this year's Class 3 state championship -- after previously taking two seconds and two thirds at state-- was a relief for head coach Danny Farmer.

Farmer, now in his 10th season as Charleston's coach, got that long-awaited title with a 61-41 victory against Pembroke Hill last Friday. It's the Bluejays' first state title since 1996 and the school's 10th overall, third most in Missouri boys history.

"It's just a great feeling," said Farmer. "Going up there for the fifth year in a row, finishing third twice and second twice, and then to finally win one with a group of kids that was very experienced is great. When you have so many seniors you kind of feel that if you don't win it, then you may not ever win it. Even if I never win it again, at least we got one this time."

It was a trio of seniors that have been integral parts of the Bluejays past three semifinal appearances -- Jamarcus Williams, Justin Clark and Shawn Sherrell.

The three joined five other seniors on the squad that provided the team with one of its most experienced teams in years.

With so many seniors, Farmer and his team felt anything but a state title would have been a failure in their eyes.

"We really felt that way," Farmer said. "This is the fifth time and you have a group of seniors -- we felt it was our time. It would've been devastating to lose with those seniors.

"Shawn, Justin and Jamarcus -- I guess they had been there too many times and lost and they made up their mind that they were not going to lose."

During this past football year, Charleston's basketball season and hopes for a state title was dealt a severe blow.

Williams, a two-time all-state player on the hardcourt, broke his leg in a game on the gridiron. But Williams rehabilitated and only missed four games at the start of the season.

The 6-foot-5, 206-pounder, who has signed to play football at Tennessee-

Martin, made his return to the court against rival Sikeston in the SEMO Conference Tournament championship.

Williams scored 15 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had six steals in the come from behind victory. Although Williams wasn't the same dominating force on a consistent basis like he had been prior to the injury, he proved that he can still be a major contributor despite being hobbled.

He managed to average 14 points and 10 rebounds this season and was a strong post defender for the Bluejays.

"Jamarcus was hampered all the way through," said Farmer. "We were lucky that (Jerrell) Quinn stepped up and played well at the end. Early on we had learn how to play without Jamarcus and I think that made us a better team. I just had an overall deep bench and I think that had a lot to do with it. That's the first time I've had a deep bench."

Then, right after the SEMO Conference Tournament, Sherrell went down with a hand injury. Sherrell missed seven games through December as the Bluejays lost close contests with Class 5 Webster Groves and Class 1 runnerup Bell City in the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament.

Sherrell made his return to the court in a conference home game against Sikeston on Jan. 5. While Sherrell showed no ill-effects from the injury, scoring 20 points, Charleston lost to the Bulldogs 67-64.

It was the last game the Bluejays would lose.

Charleston hit its stride, winning 18 straight games to finish out the season.

The Bluejays' most consistent player, and arguably the team's best player throughout the season, was Clark.

The 6-4 guard, who has signed to play football at Murray State, averaged a team-leading 17 points per game.

Clark's strongest games were in the playoff run as he scored 28 points against Malden in a sectional game, poured in 25 in the quarterfinals against Bayless and led the team with 15 points in a low-scoring 49-44 semifinal victory against Bowling Green.

"Justin carried us through the season," said Farmer. "Justin got us past Malden and he played well against Bayless. I think once we got to state teams were determined not to let Clark beat them. And then Shawn stepped up -- he had a tendency to do that anyway. You have to have a lot of weapons and a lot of ingredients to win it. We could beat you a lot of different ways. If you tried to stop one player on our team, then someone else would pick it up. Everything just clicked at the right time."

Sherrell saved his best game for the biggest stage. Averaging 14 points per game, Sherrell rattled off 27 points against Pembroke Hill.

The championship is Farmer's sixth overall, but his first as a boys coach. He previously won five state titles as the head coach of Scott County Central's girls.

"It ranks right up there with all that I've accomplished," Farmer said of this year's championship. "I felt pretty good going four times with the boys, but finally winning one and now having won with both boys and girls, it just makes me feel good about my accomplishments.

"In a sense, I think I've earned some respect by winning this one. I feel you could at least put me in the category as a good coach. Not a legend, but a good coach."

Farmer said after the game that anything less than a state championship would have been a failure.

"I felt that way, you better believe it," Farmer said.

"Third and second isn't good enough, even though you go four years in a row it's not good enough. If we hadn't won this year and we got another second, I know it wouldn't have been good enough. The people in Charleston and some people in general just feel that if you don't win it, it's nothing. I don't think that's a fair assessment of going to the final four. I think just to go there is really great. But getting that monkey off of our backs feels good. To win one, at least it can shut people up for a while."