By Kary Booher
LEBANON, MO – This time last year, Rolla High School’s Josh Pritchett played the role of the sixth man on the basketball team. So the choice was his.
Either he could take mental notes and learn to earn more playing time, or settle for being a part-time guy.
Well, you can figure out where this is going.
Pritchett scored a game-high 27 points, including eight in the final three minutes, to rally the Rolla Bulldogs to a 73-70 victory against the Lebanon Yellowjackets on Tuesday night at J.E. Boswell Auditorium.
And the Bulldogs needed every bit of his effort on an entertaining night when Lebanon senior Jack Ehrhardt and freshman Quenton Shelton rained down 3s to score 26 and 24 points, respectively, with Shelton scoring 18 before halftime.
“Watching (last year’s seniors), they would always find the open man and be strong with the ball. They wouldn’t panic when it got down into crunch time,” Pritchett said. “I learned to handle the ball under pressure and be able to take over if I have to.”
Said Rolla coach Mark Miller, “He’s a solid all-around player. He’s kind of stepped into his role as one of the leaders on the team.”
Nick Janka contributed 14 points for Rolla, which has now won 11 of its past 13 games since opening the season 0-4.
More importantly, the Bulldogs are 2-1 in the Ozark Conference following a game in which they trailed 41-32 late in the first half and then found themselves down 66-61 on a Shelton layup with about 3 ½ minutes left.
Zac Burns’ bucket forged a 68-68 tie with 1:18 left, and Pritchett scored on a traditional, three-point play on the next possession after Ehrhardt got whistled for a charge. That made it a 71-68 advantage. Pritchett began the play from behind the wing and then sprinted in when he found a seam.
The Ehrhardt charge was among 11 second-half turnovers for Lebanon, a young team that has now lost three consecutive to fall to 10-10 overall. The Jackets play Friday at Kickapoo.
“It could have gone either way,” Lebanon coach Adam Thornhill said of the charge. “But it was exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to clear out one side and get Shelton, who was being over-played, on the back door. If it wasn’t going to be there, clear out and get Jack on an iso, set a screen for him. But the defender stepped out and took a charge.”
For Rolla, the win continued a stretch of gaining confidence. Just two weeks ago, the Bulldogs lost to Hillcrest in double overtime, after losing a four-point advantage in the final minute.
Against Lebanon, Rolla played more aggressively after halftime and adjusted its effort, and then finished.
You see, Shelton and Ehrhardt had been assassins from 3-point range for Lebanon, connecting on seven 3s in the first half. In one combined eight-possession stretch, the teams combined for six 3-pointers and two layups – with Shelton knocking down three 3-pointers himself (and usually from at least 25 feet away).
“More than the effort,” Miller said, “guys got a little fire to go attack.”
Rolla 70, Lebanon 73
Rolla 20 18 23 12 – 70
Lebanon 17 26 14 13 — 70
Rolla – Josh Pritchett 27, Nick Janke 14, Brandon Cunningham 8, Blaize Klossner 6, Alec Buhr 4, Coby Martin 5, Trey Quick 2, Zac Burns 7.
Lebanon – Jack Ehrhardt 26, Quenton Shelton 24, Junior Torres 10, Jalen Jones 4, Will Richardson 4, Dawson Zinders 2.
JV: Lebanon 71, Rolla 65