The U.S. Bank Holiday Invitational kicked off play on Thursday, Dec. 28. The Rolla boys and girls teams, as well as the St. James girls team, were all in action to kick off the tournament. The Lady Bulldogs kicked things off with a 54-43 win over St. Clair. They'll face off against St. James after the Lady Tigers beat North County 52-39. The Bulldogs capped off the night by cruising past Mexico 69-45.
The Rolla girls got off to a fantastic start on Thursday afternoon, scoring the first eight points of the game. St. Clair needed a full four minutes to get on the board and the Lady Bulldogs were able to build their lead to 12-2 before St. Clair was forced to call a timeout to regroup. The timeout paid of for St. Clair, as they went on a 9-2 run to close out the first quarter. Despite a rough end to the quarter, Rolla held onto a 14-11 lead going into the second.
St. Clair was able to completely close the gap in the second quarter on the back of three three-pointers. Rolla struggled at the free throw line in the quarter, making just one of their seven attempts to give St. Clair a 27-24 lead at the half.
Rolla turned things around in the third quarter with excellent performances on both ends of the floor. The Lady Bulldogs held St. Clair to just two points on free throws in the quarter and scored 15 points on the offensive end to build a solid 39-29 lead through the quarter. After struggling at the free throw line in the second quarter, Rolla was much better in the third, making seven of their 11 attempts.
The Lady Bulldogs needed to keep hitting at the free throw line to close out their victory and they did just that in the fourth. Rolla was 9-11 at the charity stripe in the final quarter, as St. Clair fouled in an attempt to work their way back into the game. Rebecca Janke and Loran Pritchett each scored four points in the fourth as Rolla finished off a 54-43 win.
Janke led Rolla with 11 points, while Pritchett and Karlee Cheesman each added 10 points in the victory. Head coach Luke Floyd thinks this win gave the Lady Bulldogs a much needed confidence boost after a rough couple of games before Christmas.
"I told the girls that this is our tournament and it's time we got to play for a championship in our tournament. I think they're excited for that opportunity," said coach Floyd. "I think they're gonna show up ready to play tomorrow and I think this game should give them a good confidence boost."
Standing in the way of Rolla's chance for a championship game will be a familiar face in their cross town rival St. James. The Lady Tigers faced off against North County on Thursday and they controlled the contest after a slow start.
Neither team could get control early when St. James faced off against North County, as the first quarter ended with the Lady Tigers clinging to an 11-10 lead. St. James got a scoring boost from Quinn Paulus, who hit a three and led the Lady Tigers with five points in the opening frame.
Most of the second quarter mirrored the first, as St. James struggled to break away from North County. The Lady Tigers led 19-18 with two minutes left in the quarter, but closed out the half with a 6-0 run to go into the half with a 25-18 lead.
After halftime, it was all St. James. The Lady Tigers opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run to build a quick 15 point lead. North County finally got their first points of the half with 3:25 left in the third, but St. James wasn't going to give up their lead. The Lady Tigers led by as many as 18 in the quarter, as six different players scored for St. James. The Lady Tigers scored 16 points in the quarter and went into the final quarter with a 41-25 lead.
The Lady Tigers were able to close things out thanks to a great fourth quarter from Ashlynn Rinehart. Rinehart sank a three and scored seven points to help St. James finish off a 52-39 win.
Ashlynn Rinehart led the team in scoring with 11 points in the game, while Paulus joined her in the double figures club with 10. Alyssa Rinehart added another nine points by sinking three shots from long range in the victory.
"Other than late first quarter, I think, and late fourth quarter, we played very well on both ends," said head coach Terry Wells. "We eliminated some head shaking mistakes. We still do some things that make me crazy, but overall we put together 20 out of 32 minutes of really good basketball, so we're getting there."
Rolla may be sitting at just two wins, but coach Wells isn't sleeping on the Lady Bulldogs from down the road.
"I've been impressed. I've gotten to see Rolla play two or three times this year. They really get out and compete. They beat a very good St. Clair team today and we're in their backyard," said Wells. "It's always good, when St. James and Rolla get together there's always a good crowd and there's always some excitement."
That semi-final game was played on Friday after press time, so results were not available. The winner of that matchup will play in the championship on Saturday, while the loser heads to the third place game. All of the day three games will be played at Rolla high school.
The Lady Tigers capped off the night for the girls bracket, but Rolla got to close out the night for the boys over at Missouri S&T. Rolla dominated the game from the opening jump to run away with an easy win over Mexico.
The Bulldogs were able to get out to a quick lead thanks to some hot shooting from behind the arc. Josh Pritchett, Davie Pound and Aaron Cunningham all hit threes for Rolla in the first quarter as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-11 lead. Alec Buhr added six first quarter points to lead the way in the opening frame, while Pritchett added five points.
Rolla kept rolling in the second and stepped up their game on the defensive end. The Bulldogs held Mexico to just seven points in the quarter, but Rolla also got some help as Mexico missed seven of their 10 free throw attempts in the second. The Bulldogs took advantage by scoring 16 points on the other end. Buhr, who was also celebrating his birthday on Thursday, led Rolla in scoring again with another five points, bringing his first half total to 11. Blaize Klossner also added five points and Rolla connected on three more three's as a unit in the quarter. The Bulldogs were in the driver's seat as they headed into the second half with a 33-18 lead.
The Bulldogs didn't take their foot off the gas in the second half, as seven players scored in a 23-point third quarter. Pritchett absolutely went off in the third, burying three threes en route to an 11-point quarter. Mexico again struggled to get anything going, as Rolla continued to run away with things. The Bulldogs carried a 56-27 lead into the fourth.
Mexico made a late push to get back into the game, but it was too little too late. They scored 18 points thanks to three three-pointers in the fourth, but Rolla just kept scoring. Trey Brown scored his first varsity points, as he led Rolla with five points in the final quarter. Brown, Pritchett and Cunningham each hit threes for the Bulldogs in the fourth, as they finished off a 69-45 win.
Pritchett led Rolla in scoring with 22 points, while Buhr added another 13. Buhr spent a lot of the second half on the bench with foul trouble, but that gave several bench players a chance to shine. Cunningham scored eight points off the bench for Rolla and the Bulldog reserves combined for 19 points in the win. Bench scoring could play a big role for Rolla down the stretch in this tournament, because playing three games in three days can definitely wear players down.
"For a freshman to be able to do what (Trey Brown) has done so far in a varsity contest, I'm very pleased with him," said head coach Mark Miller. "I like our other guys too. Davie Pound goes out there and gives you instant energy, can score it for us, rebounds extremely well. Aaron Cunningham can hit the three ball, has good footwork and is strong down inside."
The Bulldogs also played in a semi-final on Friday night where a win over Warrensburg sends them to the championship for the fifth straight year. A loss will put them in the third place game. Both games will be played at Rolla high school.