The Rolla girls basketball team continued to make history this week when they made the short trip to Missouri S&T to face off against Osage in Sectional play on Tuesday, Mar. 5.
The Lady Bulldogs have been waiting to get their revenge against the Lady Indians ever since Osage beat Rolla in last year's District Championship game. This is the perfect time of year to avenge a loss, as Rolla used superb defense to stifle Osage on the way to a 42-33 win. In the process, the Lady Bulldogs earned their first trip to a State Quarterfinal since 1990.
The Lady Bulldogs take pride in playing excellent defense and they showed that from the opening tip on Tuesday night. Osage managed to score just two points in the game's opening seven minutes, as Rolla took control early. Junior Ellie Rodgers gave the Lady Bulldogs a big spark early, using a pair of steals to score on back to back possessions midway through the first. Rolla lead by as many as seven points in the quarter, but a late push from Osage, which included a three from Sara Wolf, cut the Rolla lead to 9-7 heading into the second.
Rolla had to make a few offensive adjustments midway through the opening half, as Osage packed in the lane to keep the ball away from the trio of Lady Bulldog forwards. After a few turnovers to finish the first quarter scoreless for the final minute and a half, Rolla bounced back with a three from Carli Libhart to open the second quarter. Osage responded with four straight points to cut the lead to one, but after that it was all Rolla. The Lady Bulldogs finished the first half on a 7-0 run, which included a pair of baskets from Janke, a bucket from Kianna Garner and a free throw from Savannah Campbell. The late push helped Rolla storm into the half with a 19-11 lead.
The Lady Bulldogs then came out firing to open the third, as Rodgers knocked down a three to kick off the quarter to push the lead to double figures. Libhart also added a three in the quarter, as Rolla maintained a double digit lead until the final second of the third, when Kerrigan Gamm scored to cut the Rolla lead to 26-18 heading into the fourth.
Much like the third, the Lady Bulldogs came out swinging in the fourth, as Libhart buried a three to push the lead back out to 11. Defense continued to be the name of the game in the final frame, as scoring remained at a premium. Rolla stumbled a bit midway through the quarter, as turnovers helped Osage close the gap to seven, but the Lady Bulldogs never broke, as a three point play from Janke quickly push the lead back out to 10. Late in the quarter, some missed free throws opened the door for an Osage comeback, as the Lady Indians got within six with a minute left to play, but Libhart and Rodgers both went 2-2 at the charity stripe on the next to possessions to help Rolla seal a 42-33 win and advance to the State Quarterfinals.
"It just felt really good to have redemption," said Rodgers on the win. "We lost to them last year in the District finals and we were just hungry to get this win and advance to the quarterfinals."
After a regular season of blowing out most of their opponents, Rolla has had to get used to playing in closer ballgames down the stretch, but they keep finding ways to pull out wins. Head coach Luke Floyd is proud of how well his team has fought through adversity through Districts and Sectionals to keep their season alive.
"Ugly or not, there are no ugly wins at this time of year," joked coach Floyd. "A win is a win and we're going to continue to try to get them.
The defensive effort was the key to Rolla's win against Osage, as they bottled up Gamm and Carson Wood. That senior duo leads Osage in scoring, but managed just 10 and and seven points, respectively.
"We knew coming in that we really wanted to focus on Wood and Gamm and I thought we did an outstanding job on them all night long," said coach Floyd. "They got a few points, but I think they both came in averaging about 16 and half a game, so to hold them in check was great. You could just see them getting frustrated.
"I can not give our girls enough credit for buying into defense and just really working hard at it," continued the Rolla head coach.
Buying into that defensive mindset is simple for Rodgers. Some nights shots aren't going to fall, but you can always play good defense.
"Coming in, we knew if our shots weren't going to fall, we just had to focus on defense," said Rodgers after the game. "We didn't really do that the last game and we knew if we locked down on defense, the scoring would come."
Rolla's depth also proved crucial in the win. Osage only played six players for most of the game, while the Lady Bulldogs ran eight deep all night long. That depth allowed Rolla to keep up their defensive pressure all night long, as Osage struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
"We're a team and it takes all 13 of us to get the job done," said coach Floyd. "It is nice to have eight, nine or 10 bodies you can run out there to keep fresh legs and they're willing to accept that role. Everyone wants to play 32 minutes a game, but it just doesn't work out that way. The girls have really bought into that and see the value of being a team and the success that's come from it."
Offensively, Libhart led Rolla with 14 points, while adding three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Rodgers chipped in with 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Janke added eight in the post, while pulling down six rebounds. Loran Pritchett had four points, seven rebounds, three steals, a block and an assist. Campbell also scored four points to go with three rebounds, two blocks and two steal, while Garner added two more points, two rebounds and a steal in the victory.
There's still a lot more history left on the table for this group. The Lady Bulldogs will face off against Logan Rogersville at Waynesville for their State Quarterfinal at 2:45 on Saturday. With a win, they will be the first Lady Bulldog team to make it to the Final Four.
"Pure excitement," said Janke on winning the Sectional. "It's just really exciting the opportunity that we have to be the first Rolla girls team to make it to the Final Four if we just win one more game."