The Waynesville boys basketball team (10-5) wrapped up play in the St. James Tournament over the weekend with a pair of games. After beating Blair Oaks 58-47 on Friday, the Tigers faced an Ozark Conference rival in Rolla in the Championship on Saturday, Jan. 20. After trailing by as many as 13 points, Waynesville fought their way back into the game, but fell a few points short in a 60-56 loss.
The Tigers controlled their matchup with Blair Oaks for most of the night thanks to some great three point shooting. Waynesville hit eight threes in the win, four of which came from Gunner Rees, who led the team in scoring with 16. The Tigers led early and never let go on their way to a 58-47 win.
Waynesville and Rolla were back and forth for the first few minutes. David Adams carried the Tigers early with seven points in the opening quarter, but Rolla responded to each of his buckets. Midway through the first, Josh Pritchett clicked into a second gear and went into overdrive. The senior scored nine points in the opening quarter to help jumpstart the offense. Blaize Klossner was able to score as the clock hit zero in the opening frame to give Rolla a 17-9 lead through a quarter of play.
While Pritchett led the charge in the first, Alec Buhr took over the second for the Bulldogs, scoring eight points in the quarter. Rolla led by as many as 13 points in the quarter, but a bucket from Caleb Barnes cut the Bulldog lead to nine with a minute to play in the half. Rolla played for the final shot and got one final basket to go into the half with a 30-19 lead.
Waynesville came out in the second half and finally started to click from long range. After hitting just one three in the first half, three of their first four baskets in the third quarter came from long range. Eric Morriss, Carson Cavalier and Rees each connected from three in the first four minutes of the third. The three from Rees was able to cut the Rolla lead to 34-30, but Martin buried a three in response to push the lead back out to seven.
Rolla and Waynesville then went the next four minutes without scoring and that's when the chippiness really started to settle in. After a first half that saw very few fouls, the whistles blew more frequently in the second half. It all came to a head with 1:20 left in the third quarter when Martin and Waynesville's Tanner Simpson were both hit with technicals. Rolla went on a 4-2 run to end the half, which saw three different trips to the free throw line. The Bulldogs went into the fourth with a 41-34 lead.
After the technicals were called in the third, referees pulled aside players from each team, seemingly to tell them to calm their teams down. Rolla took that note and slowed the game down to a halt. The Bulldogs held onto the ball for a full minute before attempting a shot in the fourth quarter. Rolla failed to score on that first possession and Waynesville scored on the other end to cut the deficit to five. The Bulldogs came back on the other end and Pritchett made the gym erupt with a massive dunk.
The name Pritchett was huge in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't just Josh. Muluken Pritchett had a fantastic fourth quarter and proved to have ice water in his veins. After hitting a layup midway through the quarter gave Rolla a five point lead, he hit several massive free throws down the stretch. Rolla's lead never went lower than three points thanks to free throws from Josh, Muluken and Buhr. Muluken went to the charity stripe four times in the final 14 seconds, hitting all four of his attempts. The Pritchetts made for a great one-two punch down the stretch as a block from Josh was grabbed by Muluken that led to his final trip to the line. Shaq Fregiste hit a three for Waynesville as time ran out, but it made little difference as Rolla held on for a 60-56 win.
"We had good heart, we fought," said head coach Chris Pilz after the game. "It was just a good high school basketball game. Unfortunately the story tonight is that you've got two good high school basketball teams and we had to take the, well we don't call em losses, but we're learning."
Adams had a great night for Waynesville, leading the Tigers with 18 points in the loss. Cavalier added 12 points, while Barnes chipped in another eight. Rees had five points in the championship and his play throughout the entire tournament earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team. While it was a tough loss to take against a conference rival, coach Pilz doesn't think it will shake his team's confidence.
I really like this bunch. We've had some tough losses, but we've had a good stretch where we're getting some confidence," said Pilz. "I don't think this will break our confidence. I think we'll pick right back up Tuesday night.
"We play one game seasons," added coach Pilz. "We're 0-1 tonight, at 12:00 we're 0-0. We started doing that about four or five years ago and there's so many tough games that we play, it's about the only way you can do that."
Waynesville dives head first into the Ozark Conference after facing a conference rival in the championship at St. James. Their next two games will all come on the road within the conference, starting things off against Lebanon on Tuesday, Jan. 23.