It has been almost 20 years since the Jefferson City Jays’ basketball program has reached the Final Four.
But the Jays will have their chance to punch a ticket to the Final Four for the first time since 2004 today when they take on the Hillcrest Hornets at 5:45 p.m. at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar in a Class 5 quarterfinal contest.
“We can’t get satisfied, we know that,” Jefferson City coach Josh Buffington said. “We are happy to be practicing at this time of year, but we don’t want to look ahead of ourselves either. Hillcrest is at the front of our minds and we are going to do everything we can to have ourselves prepared and put ourselves in a good position to win that game.”
The Hornets come into today winners of four games in a row, including winning the Class 5 District 6 Tournament as the fourth seed.
Unranked Hillcrest (18-11) defeated No. 5 seed McDonald County 60-43 in the first round, beat No. 8 seed Branson 54-37 -- who upset top-seeded Bolivar 55-52 in the opening round -- and knocked off second-seeded Parkview 56-51 in the title game.
“They are playing really well right now, winning four in a row coming in,” Buffington said. “They are playing with a great amount of confidence.”
The Hornets are led by seniors Amarre Clark and Cole Griesemer.
Clark, a 6-foot-1 point guard, and Griesemer (6-5 wing) can attack defenses in a lot of different ways.
“(Clark) is very explosive off the dribble, he’s good in transition and he’s just fearless,” Buffington said. “He can really get on some heaters with the long ball, but he scores in many different ways at all three levels.
“(Griesemer) can play inside-out, he can get going in transition, he’s a physical kid, an athletic kid and he can hurt you on the glass. And when the lights come on, he’s a gamer type of a kid.”
Jefferson City (22-7), ranked eighth in Class 5, advanced by winning the Class 5 District 5 championship as the top seed and has won nine of its past 10 games.
The Jays grabbed a spot in the state tournament with wins against eighth-seeded Capital City (79-37), No. 4 seed Helias (52-38) and second-seeded Borgia (69-65).
Jefferson City is expecting Hillcrest to want to play a similar brand of basketball the Jays like -- a fast-paced and transition-heavy contest.
“I do like to see that I think they will get out and go with you a little bit,” Buffington said. “Hopefully we can get them into an up-tempo game, but if it doesn’t work out that way I think we have the experience to win a game in many different ways as long as our guys are locked in defensively.”
It will be just more than a two-hour trip for Jefferson City to Bolivar, while the Hornets will have about a half-hour trip from Springfield.
This may give an advantage to Hillcrest, but the Jays feel they will be well supported, too.
“Obviously it is in their backyard,” Buffington said. “So they have the advantage maybe with the audience being so close to their hometown.
“… But I have a feeling the Jay faithful is going to show up and show out. We are going to have a lot of red and black down there as well.”