POPLAR BLUFF -- The Class 3 matchup that most area basketball fans have waited for will become a reality tomorrow night at Poplar Bluff High School.
Charleston, ranked No. 2 in Class 3, will take on fifth-ranked Malden (27-1) at 6 p.m.
Malden, after defeating Doniphan 67-65 on Friday night in the District 2 championship game, is in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.
The Bluejays (25-3) have reached the Class 3 state semifinals four straight years, taking second twice and third twice.
For the Bluejays to take a step closer, they will need to defeat a Malden team that almost ran the table, losing only to Doniphan last month.
Charleston has won 14 straight games. The Bluejays lost two of their three games without star point guard Shawn Sherrell, falling to Class 5 Webster Groves and then Bell City in the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament. The Bluejays only other loss came at the hands of rival Sikeston on Jan. 5.
"I've watched Charleston play three times this year and they're athletic and have size," said Malden coach Robert Ison. "I think we'll match up with them pretty well. They run the ball when they get a chance. Jamarcus (Williams) is tough around the basket and Justin Clark is a good 3-shooter. Shawn Sherrell does a fine job of handling the ball. I expect it to be an up-and-down game."
The game will feature two of the area's premier point guards in Sherrell and Malden's Alonzo Louis.
Sherrell averages 14 points, six assists and four steals. Louis is the Green Wave's top offensive threat, scoring 19 ppg with six assists and four steals. Both players also excel on the defensive end of the floor.
"I think it'll be a good matchup," said Ison of the point guards. "I think it will be a good chance for Alonzo to test his skills and also for Shawn Sherrell because a lot of people compare those two to each other."
Charleston's top offensive performer this season has been Clark, who averages 18 ppg and, at 6-foot-4, is a deadly 3-point marksman.
Since breaking his leg during football season, Williams has had trouble getting back to his pre-injury form of the past couple seasons. He is still effective however, scoring 14 ppg and 10 rebounds per game as he continues to improve with each week.
"The main thing is our big people will have to step up and keep them off the offensive glass," said Ison. "We'll have to do a real good job of rebounding. The team that does a good job of rebounding and handling the pressure will come out on top."
Malden's post players can match the size of Charleston with the coach's son, Robbie Ison at 6-foot-6, and 6-4 Quentin Franks.
Ison averages 14 ppg, 10 rpg and two blocks while Franks chips in with 10 ppg and 10 rpg. Franks is also the team's top free throw shooter at 75 percent. The Green Wave as a whole, however, have a tendency to struggle from the charity stripe.
Eljuan Perkins is a superior athlete that averages 11 ppg. Nick Perkins, one of the few juniors on the team scores 12 ppg with three steals and four assists.
Ryan Criglar, a top defender, comes off the bench along with Trey Porter, Kaleum Reid and junior bruiser Antonio Eddings (9 rpg).
"Charleston is used to being this situation because they have been there so many times," said Ison. "The key for us is we just have to come out and be more hungry than they are. If we come out and show a lot of aggression I think we can get it."
Charleston coach Danny Farmer was unavailable for comment at press time, but he did offer his perspective of the sectional matchup after dominating their way through District 1.
"We are not done by any means," said Farmer. "Malden is a very good team. We will have to keep on improving and working hard in practice. It should be fun on Wednesday."