But Charleston may not have seen a team with quite the athletes that Hogan Prep Academy Charter displayed on Thursday night as the Bluejays lost an overtime heartbreaker, 86-79 in a Class 3 semifinal game at Mizzou Arena.
"We always want to leave our hearts on the court and I felt like tonight we left our hearts on the court," Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. "I kind of feel for these kids because they've been focused all year, but you win some and you lose some."
The Rams, with a significant size advantage over the Bluejays, came up with huge offensive rebounds in the extra period to seal the victory. Farmer said Hogan Prep's athleticism might have finally worn his team down.
"They were a different level," Farmer said of the Rams. "We've played a bunch of teams, but Hogan Prep had about three or four guys. We had trouble keeping them in front of us -- they were quick. The big guys were very explosive. They have a very good team."
Despite facing a team with bigger and more athletic players, the Bluejays had a chance to win the game in regulation.
Bluejay senior Claude Armstrong cleaned up his own missed shot to give his team a 67-66 lead with 30 seconds left. Hogan Prep then turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds, giving the ball right back to Charleston.
Ryan Parham was then fouled with 22 seconds to go. He made the first free throw, but missed the second, keeping the Charleston lead at 68-66.
Hogan Prep called timeout and worked for a final play. Senior guard Robert Thompson was able to beat his man off the dribble and got into the paint to tie the game on a short basket with eight seconds left.
Charleston senior Jerry Carter's halfcourt desperation shot was well off the mark, sending the game into overtime.
"In that situation I told him exactly, 'you gotta do it. Go one on one and do your job,'" Hogan Prep coach Steve Stitzer said of Thompson. "As I said all along all season, it doesn't matter which guy I call on, they just seem to step up. That's what's good about this team. I was doing a lot of hoping too."
Farmer said he wanted his defense to focus on taking away a potential game-winning 3-point shot.
"We didn't want to give up a 3, but we also wanted to stop penetration," Farmer said. "He penetrated around us and made the bucket. We had a chance. We were one free throw I think from winning it in regulation. I think if we had hit that free throw and they were forced to shoot a 3, it may have been a different ballgame."
In the overtime period, Hogan Prep took control early. Carter tied the game on a 3-pointer with 2:54 left, but Hogan's 6-foot-6 senior Domonique Washington scored on back-to-back offensive rebounds, including the foul on the second putback, to give the Rams a 77-72 lead with 1:49 left.
The Bluejays (24-6) never could get the lead under three as Hogan Prep ended up pulling away.
"I thought we played pretty well," Farmer said. "I have to take my hat off to Hogan Prep. They made free throws when they had to and got some big offensive rebounds when they really needed them. I thought the effort was there. We lost to a very good team."
The Rams (22-8) jumped on the Bluejays early, leading 14-3 in the first quarter. Charleston managed to settle down and trim the lead to 18-13 by the end of the first quarter.
Hogan Prep surged ahead once again in the second quarter, matching its biggest lead of the game at 26-15 with 5:52 left in the half, but Charleston rallied to cut the lead to 34-29 by halftime.
Armstrong, generously listed at 6-foot-1, battled Hogan Prep's larger players in the paint and scored nine of his 14 points in the quarter to help keep his team in the game.
"I was just trying to do everything for my team," Armstrong said. "We were down and I felt like somebody had to step up. I've seen (bigger players) all year so I'm kind of used to that by now."
Charleston got off to a hot start in the third quarter, scoring six straight points to hold a 34-33 lead very quickly, but it was the last lead the Bluejays would have until late in the fourth quarter.
For much of the night, Hogan Prep used its length and athleticism to get run-outs for layups down the floor.
"When they play and they do the things right, it just looks so graceful," Stitzer said of his team. "They tried to pressure us way out there so we couldn't set up an offense. We just let our athleticism take over. When it runs right, it's good. But sometimes you go through some dry spells."
Hogan Prep led 55-53 entering the fourth quarter.
The Bluejays fought back and led 61-59 on a pair of Greg Tucker free throws, but the standout junior fouled out with 3:44 left in regulation.
The team appeared discombobulated at first as Hogan Prep grabbed a 64-61 lead, but Carter and Parham each scored driving layups to cut the deficit to 66-65 to set up the final sequence of events.
Maurice Mason led the Rams with 24 points. Six-foot-6 junior Broderick Newbill added 21 points. Washington had 19 points and nine rebounds.
Charleston matched the Rams on the boards, grabbing 34 rebounds apiece. The Bluejays also hit 8-of-19 from 3-point range.
Hogan Prep only hit two 3-pointers, but they shot 58 percent from the floor compared to 43 percent for the Bluejays to offset the difference in 3-pointers.
Tucker scored 20 points with four steals in just 21 minutes of action as he battled foul problems all night.
But the Bluejays had players step up in his absence as Carter scored 24 points with eight rebounds. Parham had 15 points and seven assists.
"That's the good thing about it," Farmer said. "That's why I'm not disappointed in these kids. We depended on Tucker the whole year. He'd always pull us out. If we didn't have Greg, we'd probably be .500. That's how many games he's won for us. We lost him and the kids didn't give up. They kept fighting and fighting. That exemplifies their character. It's a very good group of kids and I have about seven of the top nine coming back, so we got some valuable experience this weekend."
Charleston plays Elsberry, which lost 48-38 to Strafford in the other semifinal, today at 3:20 at Mizzou Arena.
HOGAN PREP (86) -- Maurice Mason 24, Broderick Newbill 21, Domonique Washington 19, Robert Thompson 7, Anthony Riddley 7, Roy Jackson 4, DeVante Bausby 2, Jonathan Hawkins 2. FG 34, FT 16-21, F 22. (3-pointers: Mason 1, Newbill 1. Fouled out: none).
CHARLESTON (79) -- Jerry Carter 24, Greg Tucker 20, Ryan Parham 15, Claude Armstrong 14, Aaron Cassell 6. FG 28, FT 15-21, F 20. (3-pointers: Carter 4, Tucker 2, Cassell 2. Fouled out: Tucker, Parham).