'Dogs stay in position to win share of OC crown.
In past years, the annual late-season matchups against Ozark Conference rivals Springfield Kickapoo and Springfield Glendale usually were counter-productive for the Rolla High School boys’ basketball team’s district tournament preparations.
First off, Kickapoo and Glendale were/are usually state-ranked and more times than not have posted late-season victories over RHS. And always before, those two were in the same classification as Rolla and, sometimes, in the same district.
Not this year.
This season the Rolla Bulldogs were dropped down a classification to Missouri Class 4 and have quickly established themselves as one of the top Class 4 teams in the state.
So taking on strong Class 5 programs the final week of the regular season is a great way for RHS to tune up for a strong Class 4 District 10 Tournament next week.
And Rolla started that preparation in a winning way Monday, knocking off Kickapoo 81-65 at a packed RHS gym in a battle of state-ranked teams and keeping itself in position to win a share of the Ozark Conference championship.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 in last week’s Missouri Class 4 state poll, improve to 21-2 overall and 7-1 in the conference. The Kickapoo Chiefs, ranked No. 5 in Class 5, fall to 21-4 overall and wrap up OC play 8-1. Rolla increased its current winning streak to 12 games while the Chiefs’ winning streak ended at six games.
Rolla was scheduled to host Owensville on RHS Senior Night Tuesday and on Thursday hosts Glendale in its conference and regular-season finale at the RHS gym (junior varsity 5:30 p.m., varsity following).
Actually Rolla’s games against Kickapoo and Glendale had been scheduled for last week but were postponed due to the icy weather.
Kickapoo defeated Waynesville last Saturday and, with Monday’s result, that leaves three teams - Kickapoo, Rolla and Waynesville - all with just one league loss. Kickapoo is done at 8-1 and as of Monday night Waynesville and Rolla were both 7-1. Waynesville was to play at Springfield Hillcrest on Tuesday while Rolla finishes up hosting Glendale Thursday.
So if they can defeat the 14-11 Glendale Falcons, the Bulldogs would end in either a two- or three-way tie for the OC championship. Last season Kickapoo and Waynesville shared the league title.
“Win or lose this was a great game for us to play,” said RHS head coach Mark Miller. “It prepares us so well to go into district. (Kickapoo) was one of the best teams in the state and to beat them gives us a chance to get a share of the conference championship Thursday. It’s a chance for a big week for us.”
And Rolla got one of the biggest wins of its season by tweaking things defensively. Usually the Bulldogs create havoc on opponents with its full-court trap. However, because of Kickapoo’s strong guard play RHS went with more of a straight-up, man-to-man defense. And the results were impressive.
“One of the things we tried to do differently, instead of the full-court trap, we were just trying to slow them down some with it,” Miller said. “We backed off the full-court pressure.
“Usually (turnovers) come from our full-court pressure. But (Monday) our half-court got some turnovers. And we also hit some big-time threes. And I’m proud of the composure we maintained against their high-quality pressure.”
The Bulldogs scored the game’s first five points and never trailed.
In fact, Kickapoo was trying to overcome a sizable lead most of the way, as Rolla opened the game by scoring 18 of the first 23 points. And a 17-foot jumper from 6-4 senior Caleb Copeland at the 3:05 mark of the first period gave the Bulldogs a 18-5 advantage.
Kickapoo 6-6 sophomore Jared Ridder buried a three-pointer to end the first quarter and whittled the Chiefs’ deficit to eight.
Rolla’s 6-4 junior forward Sam Marshall and 5-10 junior guard Kobe Wands opened the second period with a pair of field goals and the Bulldogs held a double-figure lead most of the quarter.
To end the first half Rolla missed a layup and Kickapoo’s 5-10 senior guard Jack Simpson nailed a trey at the buzzer for what was basically a five-point turnaround, cutting the Bulldogs’ halftime advantage to eight, 34-26.
Kickapoo’s 6-6 senior forward Ryan Burland put in a layup early in the third period to allow the Chiefs to climb within five points, 35-30.
However, that was as close as Kickapoo would come as Rolla responded with a 14-4 run over the rest of the third quarter. Copeland converted a Kickapoo turnover into a 15-foot jumper at the 1:04 mark of the period to give Rolla a 17-point cushion, 49-32.
Rolla took a 49-34 edge into the fourth quarter.
By the fourth period Kickapoo had put Rolla into the one-and-one free throw situation, so the Bulldogs did what they like to do in fourth quarters - put the ball in the Wands boys’ hands and dare the opposition to foul them.
Between Kobe and Carter, the Wands brothers went 19-for-24 from the free throw line in the final period, and Rolla’s lead would not dip below double figures.
Five Bulldogs scored in double figures, with Copeland leading the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds while K. Wands hit 11-of-14 free throws to finish with 15 points and five boards; C. Wands made 10-of-12 free throws and had 14 points; junior guard Zach Brown swished four long three-pointers for 12 points, and Marshall had 12 points and seven boards. RHS hit seven 3-pointers.
Tyson Batiste, a 6-3 senior, paced the Chiefs with 15 points while Simpson added 13 and Ridder 10. Kickapoo connected on 11 treys.
Kickapoo won the junior varsity game 57-54. Rolla led the jayvee contest 18-12 after one period, 31-26 at halftime and 43-36 entering the fourth quarter. However, in the fourth period the jayvee Chiefs outscored Rolla 21-11 to come from behind.
Sophomore Brandon Cunningham and freshman Nick Janke each had 14 points for the Rolla jayvee team, now 13-6.
Rolla 81, Kickapoo 65
Rolla (21-2, 7-1): Brown 4-0-12, K. Wands 2-11-15, C. Wands 2-10-14, Marshall 5-0-12, Maynard 2-0-4, Short 1-2-4, Copeland 9-1-20, Totals 25-24-81.
Kickapoo (21-4, 8-1): Batiste 5-5-15, Johnson 4-0-9, Simpson 4-3-13, Davis 3-0-8, Giefer 1-2-4, Ridder 4-0-10, Burland 3-0-6, Totals 22-10-65.
Kickapoo 57, Rolla 54
Rolla (13-6): Pritchett 2-0-6, Lajubutu 1-1-4, Cunningham 4-2-14, Burns 2-2-7, Buhr 2-4-9, Janke 6-2-14, Totals 17-11-54.
Kickapoo: Smith 0-2-2, Vokolek 3-2-8, Fowler 1-0-2, Blakeslee 4-0-8, Schmitz 3-0-9, Auer 2-0-6, Roberson 1-0-2, Dye 4-0-9, Closser 5-0-11, Totals 23-4-57.