CALIFORNIA —The California Lady Pintos have won every challenge so far this postseason.
Another hurdle awaits them at 4:30 p.m. today as California (23-6) takes on the Clark County Indians (28-1) in the Class 3 semifinals at the Hammons Student Center in Springfield.
"It is more than we could have imagined," California coach Bobby Sangster said Thursday.
The challenges started in the district tournament, where the second-seeded Lady Pintos had to defeat top-seeded Boonville to advance.
"Boonville has been our nemesis, they've had our number and have just been a bad matchup for us," Sangster said.
But California posted a 54-40 victory to advance to the state tournament.
Next up was Barstow, a young, but talented team in the sectionals.
"Barstow has three next-level players, I believe," Sangster said. "They are going to be tough for the next few years."
But California had the answer this year, winning 64-55.
Last Saturday afternoon's quarterfinal brought a matchup with Hamilton-Penney.
"Penney was a Cinderella story from winning its district and to get past them was great for us," Sangster said.
The 68-46 victory got California to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.
"It's been a great journey and a great accomplishment to get to this point," Sangster said.
Clark County will present a variety of challenges today.
On offense, the Indians are scoring a little more than 57 points per contest.
"They're big, they're athletic, they can shoot the basketball, they can handle the basketball," Sangster said. "Going up against them is going to be a test."
Defensively, the Indians are allowing just 43 points per game to their opponents.
"They do a lot, they switch defenses, they're very good at adapting," Sangster said. "We're going to have to be focused, we're going to have to play very well.
"And even if we do that, it's going to be extremely tough because of their length and athleticism."
Sangster believes California's schedule has prepared them for Clark County's defense — which has been a 1-3-1 zone, a 2-3 zone and man-to-man at various times this season.
"The good thing is we've played Helias this year, we've played Fatima this year, we've played Blair Oaks and Hermann and Osage and Boonville," Sangster said. "We've seen a lot of things from a lot of good teams.
"Hopefully we've learned from that, take those experiences to good use and see what happens."
The Lady Pintos are primarily a 3-point shooting team. They entered the state tournament with 255 makes on 801 attempts from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Elizabeth Lutz, who has signed with Western Illinois, has converted on more than 80 of her 3-point attempts this season. Brittney Ellington, a senior, and freshman Tristan Porter have both eclipsed the 60-mark in makes.
Sangster figures the Indians will try to slow the long game of the Lady Pintos, who average 66 points per game.
"They are going to try to take away our best asset and run at us at the 3-point line," he said. "They wouldn't be the first to try that and we're going to have to see how we handle it.
"You've got to take what the defense gives you. If that means we have to drive to the basket more and try to get to the foul line, then that's what we'll do."
Sangster said adapting to game conditions is a strength of the Lady Pintos.
"We haven't been perfect, we've made mistakes," he said. "But you learn from them, we've talked about them during games and what we did to fix things. It's worked for us so far."
It's been an emotional past few days for Sangster, whose father passed away last Saturday.
"This has taken a lot off my mind," he said. "I have been blessed with a very good basketball team and a very good community at the right time.
"I'm lucky to have this group of kids and that we get to play on the last weekend of the season."
Today's other semifinal is a rematch of last year's Class 3 state championship game between Strafford (31-0) and Whitfield (22-6). Strafford won that game 83-37.
Action on Saturday shifts to JQH Arena, with the Class 3 state title game scheduled for 6:20 p.m. The third-place game will be at 11 a.m.