The 10th ranked Rolla girls basketball team (12-2) hosted the neighboring St. James Lady Tigers (8-9) for a matchup on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Defense was the name of the game between the two friendly rivals, but Rolla was able to grind out a 44-36 win.
Scoring was at a premium all night long and that started with a back and forth first quarter. After trading buckets to start the game, Ashlyn Rinehart knocked down a three for St. James to grab an early 5-2 lead. Rolla came back with three free throws to tie the game, but Rinehart took the lead back with another basket. The lead went back and forth for the remainder of the quarter, but a last second layup from Mikaela Donnelly gave St. James an 11-9 lead.
Rolla took the lead back early in the second quarter when Rebecca Janke was fouled while going up for a layup. She made the shot and the free throw to put the Lady Bulldogs in front. Free throws from Ellie Rodgers and Olivia Burken grab control, which they were able to maintain. St. James closed the gap late with a layup from Rinehart and a layup from Donnelly with four seconds left cut the score to 23-22. Burken then killed the St. James momentum by burying a three at the buzzer to give Rolla a 26-22 at the half.
The Lady Bulldogs held onto their lead throughout the third quarter, but they could never break away. Janke was a huge player for Rolla in the quarter, scoring six of the Lady Bulldogs' 10 points in the third. The fouls also started piling up for St. James, as Riley Whitener picked up her third foul late with just over a minute left and Savanna Riccetti picked up her fourth seconds later. Hannah Marcee was also forced to the bench for long stretches, as she found herself in foul trouble for most of the night. Despite the fouls, St. James kept hanging around on the back of four points from Aly Bullock, but Rolla went into the fourth with a 36-27 lead.
Rolla led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but St. James kept hanging around. Marcee fouled out with 2:47 left as Loran Pritchett knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Lady Bulldogs up 42-29. St. James chipped away late, scoring seven straight points to cut the score to 42-36, but Rodgers was able to ice the game with a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds left in the game, finishing off a 44-36 win.
"To get a win over St. James is a good confidence booster I think just to show that we can win by grinding them out," said Rolla head coach Luke Floyd. "We'd obviously like to clean up some things and take better care of the basketball, but defensively I thought we did a good job all night long guarding and I thought we rebounded exceptionally well tonight.
Janke's presence in the paint was a big difference maker for Rolla in the win. Offensively, she was the only player on either team in double figures with 12 points, while getting a double-double by adding 12 rebounds. She also blocked five shots in an excellent defensive performance. Coach Floyd said Janke and her fellow forwards Pritchett and Savannah Campbell were crucial to the win.
"She effects the game in so many ways and she doesn't even need to have the ball in her hands or get a block on the defensive end," said coach Floyd on Janke. "Her presence will alter shots, on the offensive end, she's going to draw one, two or three different girls and it opens things up for the other girls. Just her being on the floor is huge for us and I think Savannah and Loran are doing the same thing. They're working really hard."
Rodgers was Rolla's second leading scorer with nine points in the win, while leading the team in steals with five and dishing out an assist. Pritchett and Carli Libhart each chipped in with seven points, while Pritchett added four rebounds, an assist and a steal. Libhart added a pair of rebounds. Burken scored five points for Rolla, while adding six boards, three assists and two steals.
As for St. James, the Lady Tigers just kept hanging around despite several of their players being in foul trouble late. Their defensive performance against a high-powered Rolla offense shouldn't be overlooked and head coach Terry Wells was thrilled with the defensive performance, but knows they need to find the next gear offensively.
"Our effort was great. Our effort has been pretty good all year, that's been pretty consistent and as long as that's the case, we have potential," said coach Wells. "I told them in the locker room, this is going to take one minute, it's going to be quick. Your effort is awesome, but you're going to have to tighten some screws offensively if you want us to win. All we're going to do is get close if we can't score 40 points. That's what we talked about and that's what we'll focus on and we'll keep getting better.
"It's just always something little with us," continued coach Wells on the offense. "We had a little stretch in the second quarter where we had two or three transition opportunities in a row and we just two a pass two feet off-line to slow down somebody on the run. Or instead of hitting someone in the shooting pocket, it's going out of bounds off of their fingers, because it's at their feet. Its the little bitty things."
Whitener led St. James with nine points in the loss, while adding a pair of rebounds and a steal. Donnelly chipped in with eight points, three rebounds and a steal. Rinehart scored seven points, while leading the team in both steals and rebounds with seven steals and four boards. She also added a block. Bullock added another five points, a rebound, a steal and an assist. Bailey Wells had four points, three rebounds, three steals and an assist, Marcee had three points and two rebounds before fouling out and Riccetti chipped in with three rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Coach Wells just thinks his girls need to get that one close win that gives them a confidence boost down the stretch.
"They just need to make some plays to win a couple of big games and get a little confidence and get on a roll," said the St. James head coach. "We're used to being in close games and finding a way to win them. That's what we've always done. This group hasn't learned how to win and that's what they're struggling with. They're in a close game and they find a way to lose it. What we need is to have a couple of kids step up, find a way to win one or two of them and we'll be fine."
Rolla on the other hand is as hot as they come. The Lady Bulldogs have won 12 straight games and have spent the entire last month on the road. Rolla hasn't played a home game since winning their championship of the Rolla Holiday Tournament in December, so coach Floyd and the girls were glad to get a chance to get back on their home court and get back into a regular schedule after three straight tournaments.
"More than anything, just getting back into a routine. Two games a week, three days of practice a week and getting back to that. And playing at home again, this was our first home game since the holiday tournament, which feels like forever ago," said coach Floyd. "As we continue to win, we tell the girls that they're going to get everyone's best shot, but they're gaining confidence too. They're starting to believe that we're a pretty good basketball team and they're hungry to keep doing more."
Both Rolla and St. James will have conference games coming up on Thursday, Jan. 24. The Lady Bulldogs will make the trip down to Hillcrest for an Ozark Conference game, while St. James hosts Union for a Four Rivers Conference matchup.