The St. James (7-5) and Rolla (3-7) girls basketball teams took part in the US Bank Holiday Invitational. The two faced off in the semi-final on Friday, Dec. 29, with the Lady Tigers advancing to the championship with a 51-45 win. St. James went on to lose the championship to Waynesville on Saturday 53-33, while the Lady Bulldogs beat Licking 61-59 to place third.

Rolla and St. James had a wild matchup on Friday night that came down to a series of runs. St. James got out to a hot start, scoring the first nine points of the contest. The Lady Bulldogs were able to get on the board when Ellie Rodgers hit a three four minutes into the game and Karlee Cheesman followed that up with a three of her own. That was a part of an eight-point run for Rolla, which close the gap to 9-8 in St. James' favor. Quinn Paulus hit a three to end the Lady Bulldog run, but Rolla scored the final five points of the quarter to end the first with a 13-12 lead. 

The game continued to be back and forth in the second, as Bailey Wells hit a pair of free throws to give the lead back to St. James in the opening minute. Kianna Garner responded with a pair of free throws of her own before scoring again on a St. James turnover. St. James went on to tie things at 17 less than two minutes into the quarter. After the game was tied at 17, Rolla took over. The Lady Bulldogs went on a 9-2 run over the next few minutes to take a 26-19 lead. Rolla went on to carry a 30-21 lead into the half. 

After halftime, St. James came out punching. Three minutes into the third quarter, Ashlynn Rinehart buried a three to cut the Rolla lead to 33-27. A few minutes later, she buried another three followed by a bucket from Wells and St. James managed to cut the deficit to 37-34. After that, the quarter was quiet. Rolla scored the only two points in the final two minutes of the quarter to cling to a 39-34 lead heading into the final quarter of play.

The comeback started in the third, but was finished in the fourth. St. James cut the lead to 41-40 with 4:20 left in the game, before Rinehart dropped her fourth three of the contest to give the Lady Tigers a lead for the first time since early in the second quarter. Rolla tied the game at 43 on the next possession, before the Lady Tigers went on a 8-0 run that put the game out of reach. Rolla scored as the clock hit zero, but it wasn't enough as St. James finished off a 51-45 win.

Rinehart led St. James in scoring with 14 points, while Savannah Riccetti added 10 more points, four of which came from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. St. James had six players score at least four points in the win. Mattie Dean led Rolla with nine points in the loss, while Rebecca Janke added eight. Garner and Rodgers each chipped in with seven points.

Friday's game was a tough lesson in closing out games for the Lady Bulldogs, but that lesson paid off when they faced off against Licking in the third place game on Saturday afternoon.

Rolla and Licking were back and forth the entire first half. Early on, Rolla was able to grab a 12-9 lead thanks to a three from Cheesman, her second in the game. Despite the three, Licking closed out the first quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 14-12 lead into the second.

Rolla kept fighting in the second and got some more hot shooting from Cheesman. The sophomore guard hit two more threes in the quarter, the second of which gave Rolla an 18-17 lead early in the frame. The lead traded hands a couple of times throughout the quarter, but Rolla went into the half with the upper hand when Dean went to the line and hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. Those free throws gave Rolla a 26-25 lead at the half. 

The Lady Bulldogs kept rolling in the second half, stretching their lead to as many as seven points in the third quarter. Licking was able to close the gap down the stretch thanks to a lot of free throws from Karlee Holland, who went 6-8 from the charity stripe in the third. Licking got as close as within three points in the third, but a last second layup by Janke gave Rolla a 40-35 lead going into the fourth.

Licking quickly closed the gap in the fourth, tying the game at 43 with 5:31 left to play in the game. Cheesman came up big for Rolla again in the fourth, hitting a three to break the tie 20 seconds later. Licking and Rolla traded points for the next couple of minute, but Rolla managed to hold onto their lead. Cheeman then sank her sixth three of the game to give Rolla a 53-47 lead with 3:21 left to play.

Rolla was able to stay out in front for the rest of the game, but Licking made things interesting in the final minute of play. Holland hit a pair of free throws with 10.8 seconds left and Rolla turned the ball over on their next possession. That opened the door for Holland to bury a three with 4.3 seconds left int he game, cutting Rolla's lead to 60-59. Rolla was able to inbound the ball to Cheesman, who hit her first free throw attempt. Her second bounced away and ran off the last couple of seconds on the clock, giving Rolla a 61-59 win.

Cheesman was a machine on Saturday, scoring 21 points and hitting six threes. She said she just felt like her shot was right from the moment the first three fell.

"It was definitely just when the first shot. I had no idea going into the game that I was even going to shoot that many or even make that many let alone," said Cheesman. "It was just energy all throughout the game." 

Cheesman tends to be a scorer for Rolla, but not at the rate she was on Saturday night. Head coach Luke Floyd said he had to tell her to keep shooting because she wasn't used to sinking three after three.

"She was feeling it and in the second half she was passing up some shots so I had to call her over to the bench and say 'Karlee, you're kind of feeling it tonight aren't ya? You've gotta shoot the ball,'" said coach Floyd. "The next time she got it, she shot it and hit a three and kind of got going again.

"We struggle to find that go-to scorer," continued Floyd. "For her to step up tonight and be that for us, I thought was great."

But it wasn't just Cheesman on Saturday. Dean added another 14 points, Rodgers scored nine points, Loran Pritchett chipped in with eight and Rebecca Janke had six. It took a full team effort to beat a Licking team that entered the tournament with an undefeated record. 

"The showed tremendous heart and mental toughness. I just told them that mental toughness was something I thought we were lacking as a program and they proved me wrong tonight," said coach Floyd. "We came out from the get go and competed and down the stretch where Licking made their run, we had an eight point lead with a minute to go and they get within one. Again, we could've just folded, but we kept battling and did just enough to get the win.

"I'm just so proud of them to come in and show that kind of resolve and play as well as we did tonight," continued Floyd. 

This tournament should be a huge boost for Rolla, who entered the tournament with one win. Rolla was able to triple their win total and get their first two home wins of the season. 

"It feels amazing. I know third isn't the best, but it's definitely very good for us, especially in our home tournament," said Cheesman after the game. "I'm sure no one expected us to even pull a win out. Getting those two wins is just awesome, especially on our home court...it just feels awesome." 

Coach Floyd is hoping that the two wins in the tournament will propel them to find more success in 2018.

"It's huge. Our goal coming into the tournament was getting at least two wins. Obviously we would've liked to have been playing for first, but we bounced back and we got that second win," said the Rolla head coach. "This is the first goal of the season that we have reached. We'll come back Tuesday with a chance to play Salem and start a new year hopefully with a win, starting with a winning streak and build from there." 

St. James didn't have as much luck when they faced off against Wayneville for the championship. The Lady Tigers were behind the eight ball from the beginning, as Riccetti rolled her ankle during warmups, which left St. James without their starting point guard for most of the game. Waynesville took advantage by sinking threes on their first two possessions and running out to a quick 16-7 lead through the first quarter. 

Re'Shawna Stone then took the game over in the second. She scored 11 points in the second quarter as Waynesville extended their lead to 34-17 at the half.

After a rough first half, St. James started to settle in a little. The Lady Tigers won the third quarter, holding Waynesville to 10 points, six of which came from Stone. Offensively, St. James scored 11 points thanks to a five point quarter from Rinehart.

While St. James won the second quarter, the hole was just too big to dig out of. Waynesville added nine more points in the fourth to finish St. James off 53-33. While the loss was a tough one take for St. James, head coach Terry Wells was proud of the way that his girls fought in the second half.

"Well, I'm half disappointed, half proud. I thought in the first half we kind of had the deer in the headlights," said coach Wells. "I knew Waynesville was good and I knew it was a good test for us and I didn't feel like we came out and played physical, we didn't compete very well. After halftime we talked and we at least came out and fought and competed. 

"When you have an experienced team and you know coming in that you're going to have to be perfect to win, but there's more to it than wins and losses," continued Wells. "Hopefully they can see the difference in the first half when we were down 17 and then lose the game by 20. There's a difference in how you play and if we can stick around in some games, we can beat some good teams."

The Lady Tigers didn't get the results that they wanted to, but coach Wells thinks that tough games like that are important lessons.

"Absolutely, we moved to the championship game of a tournament, Districts is a tournament," said coach Wells. "To be in a gym that's this full and this loud and this environment is a learning experience. It didn't go the way we wanted and I don't think we played our best basketball, but we will learn from it and if we don't we'll fail the next time."

Rolla and St. James each had players named to the All-Tournament team. Janke earned a spot for Rolla, while Rinehart was named to the team from St. James. Waynesville's Stone was the tournament's MVP.

Rolla was back in action on Tuesday, Jan. 2 when they hosted Salem, but results were not available at press time. They'll head back into conference action with their next game on Monday, Jan. 8 when they host Joplin. St. James returns to action on Thursday, Jan. 4 when they travel to Steelville.