The Rolla (7-9) and St. James (10-7) girls basketball teams faced off in a rematch of the semi-final of the US Bank Holiday Invitational on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The rematch looked a lot like their first matchup of the season, as Rolla grabbed an early lead, but St. James fought back in the second half to win 63-57.
Rolla got out to a fantastic start on Tuesday night, scoring the first seven points of the game. The Lady Bulldogs founds some great success with their press on the defensive end, which helped them get going in transition. Rolla head by as many as 12 points in the opening quarter, but St. James closed the gap down the stretch.
Rolla scored 21 points in the opening quarter with Karlee Cheesman hitting a pair of threes. Rebecca Janke added five points in the paint, while Mattie Dean added another four from the block. St. James saw offense from several fronts in the quarter, with Bailey Wells scoring six points to lead the way. The Lady Tigers also had their share of chances from the free throw line, as Rolla committed seven fouls in the first quarter alone. St. James was 5-8 in those chances.
Rolla went into the second quarter with a 21-16 lead and that five point lead remained for most of the opening half. Fouls again kept pouring in, as both teams had committed at least 10 fouls with a minute and a half to play in the half. Neither team was able to take much advantage of those trips to the line, but the foul trouble for both teams would prove to be important in the second half. Rolla was able to extend their lead just before the final buzzer hit as Kendall Mara hit a three in the final seconds to put Rolla out in front 37-29 with a half to play.
Karlee Cheesman scored for Rolla right out of the half to push the Lady Bulldog's lead to 10, but after that St. James started to chip away. Ashlyn Rinehart had a solid first half with nine points, but she exploded after halftime. She opened the second half with a three, before a St. James steal set her up for another. In the blink of an eye, the Rolla lead was cut to four. Kiana Garner scored on the other end for Rolla, but Rinehart came back with her third three in the span of two minutes to cut the score to 41-38. Rolla was able to make a run to push their lead back out to 10 over the next few minutes, but St. James came right back at them. This time Mikaela Donnelly made a run with five points before fouling out late in the third. The Rolla lead was down to 50-47 at the end of the third.
St. James just kept chipping way at that lead in the fourth, as Ashlyn Rinehart gave St. James their first lead of the game 53-52 just over two minutes into the quarter. St. James would go on to maintain that lead for the rest of the game. Rolla needed to foul down the stretch, but had done a much better job in the second half of staying out of foul trouble. As a result, St. James was able to burn time off the clock on inbounds plays, because fouls didn't send them to the line. Rolla was finally able to get their seventh foul of the half with under 30 seconds to play in the game and the seventh foul sent Cheesman to the bench with five fouls. Kiana Garner would also foul out before the game ended. St. James was able to keep Rolla off the board in the final seconds to win 63-57.
"If we don't guard, we're not very good. If we don't defend, we're not very good. We did none of the things defensively early in this game that we gameplanned," said St. James head coach Terry Wells. "Luckily we were hitting some shots, our fans were great, to keep us in the game and then in the fourth quarter our defense found it's feet and we were able to continue to score and come away with a win."
The St. James defense was key down the stretch, as they forced Rolla into a lot of bad passes. Rolla head coach Luke Floyd took the blame for not having his team prepared to face that kind of pressure late.
"I have to do a better job coaching," said Floyd after the game. "The girls played really hard and had great effort and their coach let them down again tonight. I gotta find a way to close out ballgames, especially in the fourth quarter. That's all on me."
Rinehart was a monster for St. James in the win, hitting five threes and leading all scorers with 24 points. She also added four rebounds and three steals. Wells added another 13 points for St. James, while Savanna Riccetti added another 11.
"We had some kids step up and make some very good plays and some big plays and everybody on this team played some valuable minutes," said coach Wells. "You learn a lot from something like this, but you also learn it both ways. I was down there and I was positive with them, but tomorrow I'm gonna tell them they can't guard anybody and that we've gotta be better than that. They know that."
As for the Lady Bulldogs, Ellie Rodgers led Rolla with 15 points, while also adding four assists, three steals and two rebounds. Janke had a great game in the paint with 10 points and seven rebounds to go along with three assists, three steals and two blocks. Cheesman added nine points, three rebounds and three assists, while Garner scored another eight points with three boards and an assist.
Rolla will look to get back on track with a game on their home court, when they host Hillcrest for an Ozark Conference game on Thursday, Jan. 25. The loss to St. James in the holiday tournament was followed by a four game winning streak, so coach Floyd hopes the same thing happens this time around.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, we turn around and play again Thursday," said coach Floyd. "We'll get back home after four straight games on the road, being away for a little while, hopefully that'll do us some good."
St. James didn't have any time off after the win, as they turned around with a Four Rivers Conference game at Union on Wednesday. Results were not available for that game at press time. Next up is a trip to Camdenton on Saturday, Jan. 27.