The Rolla boys basketball team (14-1) took home first place in the St. James Tournament after back to back wins against Sullivan and Waynesville over the weekend. After a 64-48 win over Sullivan on Friday, Jan. 19, the Bulldogs outlasted their Ozark Conference rival for a 60-56 victory in the Championship game on Saturday, Jan. 20.
Rolla was able to get out to a comfortable lead pretty quickly against Sullivan thanks to a great first quarter by Coby Martin. The junior point guard scored the first six points of the game, while the Bulldogs started the game on an 8-0 run. Martin went on to score 10 points in the first quarter. Alec Buhr and Martin then opened the second quarter with back to back threes, as Rolla started the second with a 14-0 run to stretch their lead out to 30-7.
Josh Pritchett took things over the second half, scoring 19 of his 21 points. Sullivan was able to close the gap to 11 in the fourth, but Rolla was able to stretch their lead back out to finish off a 64-48 win.
Pritchett's 21 points led all scorers, while Buhr added 17 and Martin scored another 13. Martin had to spend a good deal of the second half on the bench after going down hard with a shoulder injury. Luckily for the Bulldogs, he was able to recover in time for Rolla to face off against Waynesville in the Championship the next day.
Waynesville and Rolla were back and forth for the first few minutes. David Adams carried the Tigers early with seven points in the opening quarter, but Rolla responded to each of his buckets. Midway through the first, Pritchett clicked into a second gear and went into overdrive. The senior scored nine points in the opening quarter to help jumpstart the offense. Blaize Klossner was able to score as the clock hit zero in the opening frame to give Rolla a 17-9 lead through a quarter of play.
While Pritchett led the charge in the first, Buhr took over the second for the Bulldogs, scoring eight points in the quarter. Rolla led by as many as 13 points in the quarter, but a bucket from Caleb Barnes cut the Bulldog lead to nine with a minute to play in the half. Rolla played for the final shot and got one final basket to go into the half with a 30-19 lead.
Waynesville came out in the second half and finally started to click from long range. After hitting just one three in the first half, three of their first four baskets in the third quarter came from long range. Eric Morriss, Carson Cavalier and Gunner Rees each connected from three in the first four minutes of the third. The three from Rees was able to cut the Rolla lead to 34-30, but Martin buried a three in response to push the lead back out to seven.
Rolla and Waynesville then went the next four minutes without scoring and that's when the chippiness really started to settle in. After a first half that saw very few fouls, the whistles blew more frequently in the second half. It all came to a head with 1:20 left in the third quarter when Martin and Waynesville's Tanner Simpson were both hit with technicals. Rolla went on a 4-2 run to end the half, which saw three different trips to the free throw line. The Bulldogs went into the fourth with a 41-34 lead.
After the technicals were called in the third, referees pulled aside players from each team, seemingly to tell them to calm their teams down. Rolla took that note and slowed the game down to a halt. The Bulldogs held onto the ball for a full minute before attempting a shot in the fourth quarter. Rolla failed to score on that first possession and Waynesville scored on the other end to cut the deficit to five. The Bulldogs came back on the other end and Pritchett made the gym erupt with a massive dunk.
The name Pritchett was huge in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't just Josh. Muluken Pritchett had a fantastic fourth quarter and proved to have ice water in his veins. After hitting a layup midway through the quarter gave Rolla a five point lead, he hit several massive free throws down the stretch. Rolla's lead never went lower than three points thanks to free throws from Josh, Muluken and Buhr. Muluken went to the charity stripe four times in the final 14 seconds, hitting all four of his attempts. The Pritchetts made for a great one-two punch down the stretch as a block from Josh was grabbed by Muluken that led to his final trip to the line. Shaq Fregiste hit a three for Waynesville as time ran out, but it made little difference as Rolla held on for a 60-56 win.
"I've just been working at practice and it's been helping a lot," said Muluken of his free throws down the stretch. "I'm confident in making them."
Rolla head coach Mark Miller was proud to see Muluken have the chance to step up and hit clutch shots in a game as big as the St. James Tournament Championship.
"He's been our ninth guy coming off the bench for most of the season and he steps up a big time situation," said coach Miller. "He hit some big free throws, protects the basketball, closes out a really tough basketball game."
The Pritchetts had a lot of fun getting the chance to be the duo that really helped seal this victory for Rolla.
"It was great, it feels good," said Muluken. Josh added, "it feels nice having my brother out here shooting free throws and stuff to close it out."
Josh Pritchett led all scorers with 22 points in the Championship win, while Buhr stepped up by adding another 16. Muluken Pritchett scored eight points, all of which came in the fourth quarter.
Josh Pritchett scored more than 20 points in Rolla's final two games of the tournament, earning tournament MVP honors. Buhr, who was also in double figures in all three games, also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team. Simply put, big players step up in big games and Pritchett has done that all season long.
"Big players step forward in big time situations," said coach Miller. "on the offense end, the defensive end, Josh was really solid for us all over."
The championship win is Rolla's fifth in a row in the St. James Tournament. Josh Pritchett and the rest of this senior class was able to finish off their high school careers in this tournament with a perfect record and it was a little extra sweet to do it against a conference rival this time around.
"It's a real fun tournament to play in, we always have a good student section and just playing in this atmosphere is a fun time," said the elder Pritchett. "Yeah for sure (beating Waynesville adds to it). Having Waynesville here, it's a big jump in terms of athleticism and that just plays into us wanting to play harder."
Rolla will be back in action when they host Jeff City on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Coach Miller wants his team to enjoy this win, but not to lose sight of the fact that they've still got a lot of season left
"We've gotta enjoy this one and then move on to Tuesday night at home," said coach Miller. "We're gonna play a good Jefferson City team and I think we'll be ready for them."