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Chamois coach Kyle Burkett (talking to team) has directed the Pirates to the Final Four for the first time in program history.

Toast of the town: Chamois
celebrates first trip to Final Four

March 8, 2018

CHAMOIS, Mo. --- It was one of those unexpected moments that make March so wonderful.

Pure madness at its best.

When a guy averaging eight points a game goes out and scores nine points --- in the final three minutes of the biggest game of the year. And, of course, he did it with an exclamation point, a 3-pointer with 1 second left to vault Chamois into the Final Four.

"I had faith," 6-2 senior hero Charles Roberts said. "I let her fly, it just felt so good."

Whatever happens next doesn't matter that much, because Roberts has forever etched his name in Pirates basketball lore.

Charles in Charge.

"He definitely took over when (leading scorer and rebounder) Aaron Brandt fouled out with three minutes left," Chamois coach Kyle Burkett said. "I couldn't be more proud of him."

Has Burkett pinched himself awake yet, after the fantastic finish that sent Chamois to the Final Four for the first time in school history?

"I'm starting to get there," said Burkett, as his unranked Pirates (21-9) get set for a Class 1 semifinal clash with second-ranked Eminence (30-1) at 6:20 p.m. Friday in Springfield. "Words can't describe what this week's been like, it's been amazing.

"We've just gotten all kinds of support from the community."

Like Wednesday night, when Chamois held a gathering at a local restaurant to honor the Pirates. How crowded was it?

"We walked in," Burkett said, "and there wasn't even a spot to sit down and eat, so we had to just stand. They had tables reserved for us, but there were so many people in there they couldn't keep them from sitting down.

"They're as excited as I am and the boys are, I think, to see them have this kind of success. That means a lot."

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FOR A TIME, THIS RUN seemed quite improbable.

"We've certainly had our ups and downs this season," said Burkett, 33, a 2002 graduate of Chamois who's in his ninth season at helm. "It's been a roller coaster."

The trip to the Final Four is obviously the highest high. But then there was mid-January, when the Pirates went winless in the Belle Tournament.

"That," Burkett said, "was not one of the highlights of the season, by any means."

Brandt was out with an injury for that tournament, and he wasn't 100 percent when he returned. But as the 6-6 senior rounded back into shape, so did the Pirates --- they've won 11 of their last 13, including seven straight.

Without question, it's Brandt --- who averages 25 points and 12 rebounds --- who drives the show.

"He's the best offensive player I've ever had the privilege of coaching --- he can do amazing things with that ball in his hands," Burkett said. "He's athletic, he's competitive, he's a very difficult kid to slow down."

He can be a handful in the locker room, as well.

"Sometimes, there are headaches that come with him," Burkett said with a smile. "He's so talented and so confident in his way, that sometimes he doesn't want to do things your way."

While Brandt is the man --- he's both the school's all-time leading scorer with over 2,000 points and all-time leading rebounder with over 1,000 --- he certainly has support, as evidenced by the quarterfinal win over Slater.

Roberts was also big in the four games Brandt missed, averaging nearly 20 points a game. But he's not the team's second-leading scorer, that's 6-3 senior Kyle Bockting, who averages 12 points and six rebounds.

The point guard is 5-10 junior Anthony Keiholz (5 ppg., 5 apg.), who's "Hands down our best defender," Burkett said. "He's the best defender I've ever had."

The other starter is one of the Warren brothers, either 5-8 senior Dylan or 6-foot sophomore Devin.

"I started coaching this group back in junior high, I knew there was some potential there," Burkett said. "These kids are willing to put a lot of time in, so I was more than willing to do the same for them. They play basketball year-round, not just during basketball season, and that's what really separates them from other teams we've had.

"It's great to see them get the rewards."

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AFTER WINNING ITS THIRD STRAIGHT district championship, Chamois had all it wanted in the sectionals --- third-ranked Jamestown, which was 26-2 at the time. And the Eagles had already beaten the Pirates twice this season.

Not this time.

"I think that was definitely to our advantage," Burkett said. "We made some adjustments and we were able to get to them that third time.

"That was a very difficult game to win."

Now, here they are. Underdogs? Sure. But rest assured, they're not just content to be there.

"Definitely not," Burkett said. "We have a pretty competitive bunch, we're not just going there to say we've been there. We're going to give it all we have."

Stay tuned, because the Madness is just getting started.