The Rolla boys basketball team (9-1) took part in the US Bank Holiday Invitational over the weekend, wrapping up play with games on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 29-30. After beating Warrensburg 61-54 in the tournament semi-final, the Bulldogs returned to their home court to beat Hogan Prep 65-57.
Rolla earned a spot in the championship with a win over Warrensburg. The Bulldogs controlled the contest early, storming to a 31-20 lead at the half. Rolla was able to maintain a consistent lead until the fourth quarter, where Warrensburg was able to cut the lead to three points with 2:22 left in the game with a barrage of threes. A minute later, Warrensburg was able to get within one, bringing the score to 55-54, but Rolla was able to close things out strong. The Bulldogs scored six straight points to close out a 61-54 win.
Rolla hit a lot of free throws down the stretch to close out their semi-final win with Josh Pritchett hitting all six of his attempts and each Alec Buhr and Blaize Klossner hitting a pair down the stretch. Pritchett ended the game with a team high 23 points, while Buhr added another 18 in the victory.
The win put Rolla in the tournament championship for the fifth straight season. The Bulldogs faced off against a familiar face in Hogan Prep, who beat Rolla in the championship in 2016.
Rolla and Hogan Prep were both firing on all cylinders out of the gate, as neither team could grab control of the game early. Hogan Prep was carried by Damien Daniels, who scored 12 of the Rams' 15 points in the first quarter. Rolla was able to keep pace thanks to some good shooting by Coby Martin and Klossner, who each hit a three in the opening frame. Hogan Prep was able to score the final points of the quarter to carry a 15-12 lead into the second quarter.
After a back and fourth first quarter, Rolla took control in the second. Pritchett picked up the scoring in the second after spending the first quarter as more of a distributor. Pritchett led the Bulldogs with nine points in the second. Rolla scored seven straight points early in the quarter to grab the lead right away and never let it go. Hogan Prep was able to get within two points in the second quarter, but Rolla finished strong to stretch their lead back out going into the half. Pritchett scored five straight points, including a last second three, to give the Bulldogs a 33-25 lead at the half.
The third quarter started with Hogan Prep and Rolla trading punches. Hogan Prep scored the first three points of the quarter, but Rolla came back with the next four. Every time Hogan Prep started to close the gap, Rolla had a response, as the Bulldogs were able to hold onto a 43-37 lead into the fourth quarter.
Hogan Prep refused to back down in the fourth quarter, scoring the first five points to cut the Rolla lead to 43-42. Rolla was able to get on the board with a three by Martin to stretch the lead back out to four, but Marty Jackson hit a three on the other end to bring that lead back to one. Hogan Prep then forced a turnover after the three and Daniels hit a free throw to tie the game for the first time since the second quarter. Pritchett was able to retake the lead with a free throw on Rolla's next possession before Martin hit his second three of the final frame to extend the lead back out to four.
Daniels hit a three for Hogan Prep on the other end, but Rolla wouldn't relinquish their lead. The Bulldogs were able to score nine straight points, which saw Klossner hit a three and score five of those nine points, as that lead ballooned out to 59-49. Miles Johnson hit a three to end Rolla's run, but the Bulldogs went on a 6-5 run down the home stretch to finish off a 65-57 win.
Free throws were again crucial down the stretch, as Rolla went 9-14 down the stretch to help seal the win. Rolla head coach Mark Miller loved the way his team was able to close out the win despite the late comeback by Hogan Prep.
"They showed a lot of composure, because it got down to crunch time and, like a good team will do, they made us win it," said coach Miller. "I felt like our guys maintained composure through the challenging part of that fourth quarter and then closed it out with a lot of character, hitting some big free throws down the stretch. They protected the basketball like none other."
This was an interesting game for Rolla, as the Bulldogs found some new offensive outlets. Klossner typically passes more than he shoots, but he found his stroke on Saturday night to the tune of 18 points. Pritchett still contributed on the offensive end with 14 points, but coach Miller saw that Pritchett needed to play a different game against Hogan Prep.
"Josh played a different role," said coach Miller. "He was a leader out here still, protecting the basketball, shooting some big free throws down the stretch and passing our way up through that defense, Josh is good."
That different style of play for Pritchett opened the door for players like Klossner or Martin, who added 11 points of his own and connecting three times from long range. Buhr added another nine points despite some foul trouble.
"We were just waiting for Blaize. He's a very good basketball player, he doesn't get down, he doesn't pout, he just works harder to improve himself and that's what Blaize has been doing. It's no surprise that he has a big breakout game like that, we expect that out of him," said the Rolla head coach. "Coby is nails from three. He's about a 60 percent shooter from three and had a lot of courage tonight."
Klossner got a little extra joy out of this championship because he was able to get into an offensive rhythm and help his team get a little revenge against Hogan Prep.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a while. I haven't had my shot fall in a while and to be able to do it in front of our fans, especially in the championship game against Hogan Prep, who beat us last year, it's a great feeling," said the Rolla junior. "We beat Hogan Prep two years ago and lost to them last year, we wanted to get revenge this year."
Klossner and Pritchett both said that this championship will continue to build Rolla's confidence as they head into 2018.
"It's huge. We've got next week off, then we've got Hillcrest and then Helias on Friday night and we're stoked for those two games," said Klossner. Pritchett added. "I think it's a big deal to us, because last year we were kind of shaky coming into this point, but this is a confidence booster that will make us step up and play better."
Pritchett and Buhr were each named to the All-Tournament team after having great tournaments overall. Daniels from Hogan Prep was named the tournament's MVP for the second straight season.
As Klossner said, the Bulldogs will have the first week of January off. Rolla returns to action on Tuesday, Jan. 9.