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      Final Four Forecast

      Area teams set to take their shot at the brass ring

      QUICK QUIZ: When was the last time the Iberia Rangers were in the basketball Final Four?

      Hint: It wasn't last year.

      Here are some more hints:

      * Lyndon Johnson was president.

      * The Super Bowl was in year II (Roman Numerals we can actually understand, as opposed to XLVII).

      * Gas cost 34 cents a gallon, a loaf of bread was 20 cents.

      * The Beatles were still together.

      The year was 1968 and 45 years later, they're back.

      The Rangers, not the Beatles.

      Iberia is one of five area teams who are still living the dream. We talked about Fatima earlier this week. Now, we'll take a look at the others --- Salisbury and Iberia on the boys side, and Chamois and St. James on the girls side.


      WE'LL START with the not-so-Lone Rangers, who suddenly have fans they never knew they had.

      "We've brought a lot of people out of the woodwork," Iberia coach Steve Schofield said. "Basketball's kind of been a second thought until recently, but everybody loves a winner and everybody's been extremely supportive."

      Wherever he goes, Schofield gets a pat on the back for a job well done.

      "That's a lot better than a kick in the butt," he said with a laugh. "I have people coming up to me -- and I'm not really sure who they are, to be honest with you --- congratulating me and the kids, so it's just really nice."

      The 10th-ranked Rangers (27-3) --- who will meet top-ranked West Platte (29-0) in the Class 2 semifinals at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena --- have made this drive with a help from two major sources.

      One expected, one not.

      The expected is 6-1 junior Darrien Dickey, who leads the team in scoring (18.5 ppg.).

      "He's just a heck of a athlete and he loves the game," Schofield said. "Sometimes he tries to do too much, but he's the engine of our team."

      The unknown coming into the season has become a big commodity --- literally and figuratively --- 6-9 freshman Dexter Frisbee, who averages 12 points and 10 rebounds.

      "You wouldn't believe it was the same kid if you saw him two years ago in junior high," Schofield said. "He was awkward, but he's improved so much. He has such a great work ethic, he wants to learn more and he just keeps getting better and better.

      "And I have to give a lot of credit to our seniors, because they've let a freshman come in and be a big part of this."

      The last time Iberia made the Final Four, these players were decades away from even being a twinkle in their parents' eye. Schofield, 54, was only nine.

      "It's been a long time since we went to state," he said. "I think one of the players on that team is now in a nursing home, and another's passed away. I think that makes this even more special.

      "But I think the best part of it is that we get to spend another week together. It's a great feeling to see the rewards for all of our hard work.

      "I just wish we could slow it down and be able to enjoy it a little more."

      Time sure does fly when you're having fun.

      Even if it's 45 years later.


      IT COULD be an all-Central Missouri Class 2 championship game, as Salisbury looms on the other side of the bracket.

      And when you're 28-1 like the Panthers are, and ranked No. 2 in the state like the Panthers are, you'd be hard-pressed to say they're "peaking" at the right time.

      It's apparent they started peaking on the first day of practice.

      But consider this: In their last two playoff games --- facing two quality teams --- the Panthers have been something else. In the last 5 1/2 quarters spanning those two games, they've outscored their opponents (Russellville and Canton) by an astounding 111-45.

      That would be a 66-point margin. In 5 1/2 quarters. In the postseason.


      The offense is good, obviously, but the defense is even better.

      "This team is probably the best defense-to-offense team I've ever had," Salisbury coach Kenny Wyatt said. "We can force some turnovers and really get out well in transition."

      Salisbury --- which will meet No. 6 Oran (27-3) at 6:40 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena --- starts two sophomores. But it's their three seniors, including Wyatt's twin sons, Austin and Zachary, who drive the bus.

      Austin averages 16 points a game and Zachary 14, while senior Austin Francis leads the team at 17 ppg.

      Salisbury advanced to the championship game last year before falling to Billings. So they've been there ... and they've almost done that.

      "We've got several seniors who've been in some big games," coach Wyatt said, "so they know what they have to do down the stretch. We just hope we can continue."


      MARTY GERLOFF, head coach of the Chamois Lady Pirates, said he doesn't even need to go to Columbia this week.

      "(Miranda Brandt) is such an unbelievable leader," he said, "I probably wouldn't even have to coach the team at this point."

      Rest assured, Gerloff will be there. And despite of his humility, the Lady Pirates wouldn't be there without him.

      But in Brandt, a 5-11 senior, he does have something special.

      "Her work ethic is through the roof, it's just unbelievable," Gerloff said. "And she never gives up --- it doesn't matter if we're down by 20 points, she'd still be fighting to the end."

      Brandt, who's signed with Southern Illinois, is averaging an impressive double-double --- 19.5 points, 13 rebounds.

      "She can play any position, 1 through 5," Gerloff said, "and she's our best defender. In the last 10 games, a girl has not scored over five points on her.

      "She always earns the other team's best player."

      In this case, that player is no secret when No. 8 Chamois (22-7) clashes with No. 2 Mercer (28-1) in the Class 1 semifinals at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at the Hearnes Center.

      The best player for Mercer --- a town located straight north on the Missouri/Iowa border --- is 5-10 senior Sierra Michaelis, who will take her talents to the University of Missouri this fall.

      "That should really be a great match-up," Gerloff said. "I think both teams match-up very well."

      Other key players for the Lady Pirates include: 3-point sharp-shooter Alyssa Bullock (5-5, sr.); the team's second-best defender, Alison Mehmert (5-11, jr.); and Paige Nolte (5-11, soph.).

      "On any given night," Gerloff said, "any of those four can score 15 to 20 points."

      While this is the Lady Pirates' first trip to the Final Four, they came close last year, losing in the quarterfinals to Marion County in overtime.

      "We got a taste of it," Gerloff said. "Since that day forward, we've worked so hard to get here ... this was our goal.

      "We're going to go up there and let it all hang out and see where we end up."


      THE ST. JAMES Lady Tigers had a perfect start to the season --- 19-0, ranked No. 1 in the state.

      The end of the regular season? Not-so much --- four losses in their last six games, and they tumbled to No. 7 in the polls.

      "I think we kind of rested on what we'd done and became a bit satisfied," St. James coach Terry Wells said, "and I take part of the blame for allowing that to happen. But our schedule got us and we just weren't able to survive it.

      "We tried not to panic and just rally the troops, and so far, so good."


      "We knew the end of our schedule was super tough, but I felt like we were getting battled-tested," Wells said. "Then we went into our districts and we hit our stride again."

      The Lady Tigers (25-4) are now striding to Columbia for their fifth appearance in the Final Four, their first since 2005.

      "It's a dream come true for me; I've dreamed about this as a player and a coach for years," said Wells, an all-state player for Belle, who's in his first year at St. James. "And this community is just basketball crazy; it's a good program with a good tradition.

      "This is a group of girls who haven't really been through it before and they've worked their tails off, and they deserve it. They're excited and nervous at the same time.

      "This is a super-competitive group. When they cross the line and the ball goes up, they're ready."

      The Lady Tigers (0-4 in semifinal games) will face unranked Cameron (19-11) at 5 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena.

      "We're certainly not going to overlook them because they have double-digit losses," Wells said.

      M.J. Buschmann (5-10, sr.) averages 16 points a game for the Lady Tigers, while Ashlee Marlatt (5-6, soph.) averages 14. They were far-above average in the team's 63-54 quarterfinal win over Ash Grove, however, as Buschmann poured in 25 points and Marlatt scored 24.

      "M.J. is a senior and I'll tell you what," Wells said, "from the district championship game to the sectionals to the quarterfinals, I don't think there's been a better player in the state in Class 3. If there is, I would have loved to watch her play.

      "Ashlee just plays way bigger than she is and she hits some hits shots. When we need a bucket, she always seem to step up."

      Then there's Alexis Uffman (5-6, soph.), who leads all St. Louis-area teams (in ANY class) in assists, 7.5 per game. She also averages 4.3 steals.

      "She's just so unselfish and such a good leader," Wells said. "The girls look to her and she's perfect for what we do.

      "We play a lot of girls and they don't care if they play 25 minutes a night or five minutes a night. They've bought into their roles and they accept them, and they've bought into a new system.

      "They don't care how they get there, as long as they get there."

      They're there.