Conception Junction: Jefferson defeated previously-unbeaten Winston by 16 points in last weekend's state quarterfinals.Eagles were Class 1 state champions in 2006, '07, '08

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

When the upstart Linn County Mustangs make their first appearance in Missouri high school basketball’s state tournament semifinals in 48 years Friday afternoon, they’ll do so against a team from a program which has been consistently good most of this century and which, under the same coach, for a 3-years span just over a decade ago, ruled the state’s Class 1 ranks.

The Mustangs (19-7) will do battle with the Conception Junction: Jefferson Eagles (26-4) Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the Hammons Student Center on the Springfield campus of Missouri State University, hoping to earn senior-led LCHS’ first-ever appearance in a state title game Saturday.

Accomplishing that “first” will be very challenging, based on available evidence and heritage.

Jefferson speeds into this game off a 55-39 takedown of previously-undefeated Winston in last Friday’s quarterfinal round, while Linn County fended off a .500 team, Wellsville-Middletown, by only six, 55-49.

While the Mustangs clearly are playing their best ball of the season, they were only the fourth-place finisher in the Tri-County Conference during the regular season, while Jefferson’s Eagles took second in the Highway 275 Conference behind a Mound City team which defeated it three times before the Eagles dealt Mound City its second and last loss of the year by 16 in a fourth meeting in the first round of the state tourney.

Aside from the trio of defeats by Mound City, Jefferson’s only setback this season was to a very-highly-regarded Nebraska squad – Falls City: Sacred Heart. Among the Eagles’ 26 triumphs was a season-opening win over an undermanned squad from Class 3 Maryville when MHS did not yet have most of its starters available because they still were playing football.

In last week’s triumph over Winston, which was ranked No. 2 in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 1 rankings, the Eagles set a strong defensive tone early with junior center Chase Farnan blocking several Redbirds shots early, according to published reports.

That allowed Jefferson a chance to establish a lead which it expanded to double digits in the second quarter. Although a flurry by Winston just before and after halftime pulled it within 24-20, Jefferson maintained its poise.

It moved the lead up to 12 by the end of the third quarter and eventually had as much as an 18-points spread just before the final horn.

The Eagles were led in scoring by junior Clayton Merrigan’s 18 points, while senior Nathan Jermain had 11, including three triples. Senior Koby Stoll had 10, Farnan added nine and “sixth man” Dalton Luke rounded out the scoring with seven.

“Jefferson is very fundamental and talented on offense and defense.,” assessed Eric Lewis, Winston’s head coach, for the C-T.

This will be the first time Jefferson has played in the state semifinals and finals since 2010 when it took third place. It was state champion in 2006, ’07, and ’08 under Jermain’s tutelage.