First league championship for Bulldogs since 1997-98.
Boys’ basketball conference championships have been hard to come by at Rolla High School.
Thursday night’s Ozark Conference title clincher was no exception.
The Bulldogs secured a share of the OC championship on Thursday by getting past scrappy Springfield Glendale 78-66 in a standing-room-only RHS gym.
Rolla shares the league crown with Springfield Kickapoo, both with 8-1 conference marks. The Bulldogs kept themselves in position to win a share by knocking off state-ranked Kickapoo in a make-up home game Monday 81-65.
It marks the first time that the Bulldogs have won a boys’ basketball championship in their two separate stints as a member of the Ozark Conference. And it’s the first Rolla High boys’ basketball conference championship since the Bulldogs won the MID-Mo Conference title outright in 1997-98, when current RHS Principal Jim Pritchett was the head coach.
“That was a really strong Glendale team,” said Rolla head coach Mark Miller, who played for one of the rare RHS conference championship teams in 1979-80, when that squad captured the Mid-State Conference title. “They are a team full of young talent; we knew they would really present a challenge.”
Rolla, ranked No. 2 in the Missouri Class 4 state poll, finished off the final week of the regular season with three wins in four days to push its overall record to 23-2 - the most RHS wins in a single season since the 1993-94 squad went 23-5.
The Bulldogs are working on a 14-game winning streak and are hoping to increase it to a 20-game win streak to end the season with a successful run through the Missouri Class 4 State Tournament, which begins next week with the Missouri Class 4 District 10 Tournament at School of the Osage High School in Osage Beach.
Rolla is the top seed in the District 10 Tournament and received a first-round bye. The Bulldogs will play the winner of Saturday’s No. 4 seed Salem vs. No. 5 seed Eldon first-round game in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 3. If RHS gets to the district championship game, its likely opponent will be No. 4-state ranked Jefferson City Helias at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Rolla defeated Helias in a regular-season home game last month.
“We’re going to go to Osage Saturday to watch the games there,” Miller said. “And do some preparation. We’ve already played Salem a couple of times, but we haven’t seen Eldon yet.”
But district is next week; the Bulldogs allowed themselves to savor the conference championship for at least a night on Thursday.
“It was really difficult,” said 6-4 senior forward Caleb Copeland, who is the Bulldogs’ seasonal leader in scoring and rebounding and added to that Thursday with game-high totals of 30 points and eight boards. “We had to go through a lot of hard teams to win the conference. But we’ve got that team chemistry and all the hard work finally paid off.”
In addition to Thursday’s come-from-behind victory, Copeland said the key games in the Bulldog OC championship run was Monday’s win over Kickapoo...and the lone loss, on the road to arch-rival Waynesville.
“The Waynesville game woke us up and showed us we weren’t as good as we thought,” Copeland said. “And against Kickapoo we fought hard and had to win.
“But we can’t stop here; there is more to accomplish than this.”
In Thursday’s see-saw battle the lead changed hands 15 times, including 12 times in the first half.
Copeland’s 17-foot jumper gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead with 2:39 left in the first period. However, the Glendale Falcons went on a 8-1 run to close out the period, and a driving layup by freshman guard Jordan Walton gave Glendale a 20-14 edge heading into the second period.
Rolla responded by going on a 8-2 run to open the quarter and regain the lead, as a three-pointer off the left baseline by junior forward Sam Marshall gave Rolla a 24-22 edge.
The teams kept exchanging baskets and leads the rest of the half, until 6-4 senior forward Chandler Collins hit a five-footer in the lane to end the second period and give the Falcons a 35-33 edge at intermission.
A pair of driving layups increased Glendale’s advantage to six points to open the third period. But Rolla ended the quarter in a rush, closing the period out with a 11-6 run. And a three-point baseline jumper by Bulldog senior forward Shane O’Brennan gave Rolla its largest advantage of the period, 57-51.
Rolla entered the fourth quarter up 57-53 and would not trail again.
A free throw by senior guard Carter Wands with 2:39 remaining gave the Bulldogs their first double-figure lead of the game, 69-59. And Rolla held on at the free throw line, hitting 13-of-16 free throws in the quarter to close out the victory.
As the final buzzer sounded the Bulldog student section stormed the court to congratulate their classmate players.
Backing Copeland’s effort was junior guard Kobe Wands with 13 points and C. Wands with six rebounds and three steals.
Walton led Glendale with 27 points.
The Rolla junior varsity team ended its season with an exciting, 59-58 victory over Glendale. Junior Tope Lajubutu drained a three-point field goal inside the final minute of play for the jayvee Bulldogs’ game-winning basket.
Glendale led the jayvee game 11-10 after the first period and 34-21 at halftime. The Falcons went into the fourth quarter up 43-37 but the jayvee Bulldogs outscored them 22-15 the rest of the way to come from behind.
Sophomore guard Brandon Cunningham had 15 points, freshman guard Josh Pritchett had 13 points and freshman forward Nick Janke had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Rolla jayvee team, which finishes with a 15-6 record.
Rolla 78, Glendale 66
Rolla (23-2, 8-1): Brown 2-1-7, K. Wands 3-5-13, C. Wands 0-7-7, Marshall 3-0-7, O’Brennan 2-0-5, Short 1-6-9, Copeland 11-7-30, Totals 22-26-78.
Glendale (14-12, 5-4): Skipworth 2-0-6, Johal 4-0-9, Wester 5-0-10, Collins 5-0-10, Walton 10-5-27, Helm 1-2-4, Totals 27-7-66.
Rolla 59, Glendale 58
Rolla (15-6): Pritchett 6-0-13, Grooms 3-0-8, Lajubutu 1-0-3, Cunningham 5-2-15, Burns 1-6-8, Briggs 0-1-1, Janke 4-3-11, Totals 20-12-59.
Glendale: Goddard 1-2-4, Oeser 2-3-7, Call 3-4-11, Brooks 6-10-22, Sachs 0-2-2, Flattery 5-2-12, Totals 17-23-58.