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Whitfield boys ready to try to win Class 3 state basketball championship

Whitfield has one state boys basketball championship and the Warriors, under coach Mike Potsou, have a chance to add another title.

Whitfield (21-9) meets the Hogan Prep Academy Rams (23-7) in a Class 3 semifinal at 6:40 p.m. Thursday (March) at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia.

The other semifinal between St. Louis Transportation and Law (19-10) and Mountain Grove (28-2) will be played at 8:20.

The semfinal winners meet for the state title at at 2:40 p.m. Saturday. The losers will play for third place at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

Whitfield finished fourth last year in its first trip to state under Potsou. Overall, this is the program’s sixth state semifinal appearance.

“Regardless of the year or the amount of times we have been in the Final Four, getting back is never guaranteed so we feel fortunate to be back in a position to win a state title,” Potsou said.

Everyone’s goal is to reach the Final Four. But only four teams do.

So just getting there is a big achievement.

“I am not sure about the fans but all the coaches and players know the difficulty it takes to make it this far,” Potsou said. “There is a lot of work and dedication by players and coaches alike to get to this point. And sometimes, you need some luck to catch a break and also to avoid injuries throughout the course of the season.”

The Warriors are in position to win the first state title since 2000. There is every reason to see Whitfield winning the state championship hardware to bring home to the school’s trophy case.

“I don’t see why not,” Potsou said. “We are one of four who are in position to do so. Anything can happen on any given day.”

But Potsou knows the other teams believe the same thing.

“All of these teams have talent and are well coached,” Potsou said. “Whomever is fortunate enough to win the championship, will have to play well.”

Located in Kansas City, Hogan Prep Academy is making its first Class 3 state semifinal since 2012. The Rams finished second, losing 79-73 to Charleston. Overall, it is the ninth trip to state for the program.

Whitfield reached the Final Four with a 66-47 win over Saxony Lutheran.  It was an impressive win, Potsou said.

“Saxony Lutheran was a state ranked team with well over 20 wins on the year,” Potsou said. “Many of those wins were versus quality opponents. Our team was firing on all cylinders that day and after the initial 3 minutes of the game we were clicking.”

Hogan Prep Academy scored a 69-61 win over Maryville to earn the trip to Columbia.

Last winter, the Warriors got to state with a 67-63 win over Caruthersville in overtime.

“Last year we won in overtime so the finish was more dramatic,” Potsou said. “This season, we have been playing really well together and the closest game to this point has been by 17 points. ”

The Warriors have two starters back and seven players overall from last year. That experience is important, Potsou said.

“It certainly helps to have individuals on the team who have been there before,” Potsou said.

Junior guard Torrence Watson is the Whitfield leader. He averages 27.8 points a game and he pulls down a team-high eight rebounds a game.

But the Warriors are not a one-man team.

“We have had a number of players step up in big roles throughout this entire postseason,” Potsou said. “Jordan Crouch, Cyrus Alexander, Luther Tayler, Amechi Ramsey, Aurelio Stucco, Ben Ayers, Ahmad McCray, Max Holton have all stepped up and made some big time plays for us on the court during the playoff run.”

Alexander, a sophomore forward, averages nine points and six rebounds for the Warriors while Taylor, a ophomore guard, produces eight points and seven rebounds a game.

The Warriors must be ready to go against the Rams. Potsou said Hogan Prep is a tough opponent.

It is the first meeting between the two schools.

“They are well coached, quick and have multiple players who have played all season long for them in different roles,” Potsou said.

Junior guard Damien Daniels sparks the Rams offfense. He scores 23 points a game. Sophomore guard Rodvon Jennings chips in with 10 points a game.

The keys for the Warriors are simple, Potsou said.

“Stay focused and continue to do what we do well,” Potsou said.

The Warriors will get support from their school.

“This is a unique year as the boys and our girls teams are in the Final Four,” Potsou said. “Whitfield is a tight-knit community and we have several students, parents, friends and family members heading to Columbia to support both programs. We are fortunate to be surrounded by so many good people.”

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