By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Rogersville, Mo. — Every team hopes to get out to a fast start once the ball is tipped.
Rogersville took that concept to another level in its 57-37 victory over West Plains Friday night.
Utilizing a smothering match-up zone, the Wildcats forced repeated turnovers in the opening frame and raced out to a dominant, early lead.
Before the Zizzers realized what had them, they were down 24 points midway through the half.
Rogersville’s defense set the tone from the start and was a big key in the victory, according to head coach John Schaefer.,
“That’s what we’ve been talking about this year since day one with our intensity,” Schaefer said. “Their energy and their defense is what got us sparked and put us up 32-8 to start. It’s hard for anybody to come back from that.”
The defensive intensity allowed Rogersville standout Luke Vandersnick to quickly find his rhythm at both ends of the court.
“Intensity is what wins it for us,” Vandersnick said. “If you can get stops on defense and keep them from scoring, you’re going to be able to run in transition and get easy layups every time.”
The senior all-state selection did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats, pouring in nine of his game-high 22 points in the opening frame.
Schaefer praised Vandersnick for embracing his leadership role.
“[Vandersnick] is a senior, and that’s his responsibility,” Schaefer said. “He gets to be called the best player on our team, but the other part is, you’ve got to earn it. We ask a lot.”
Vandersnick was not alone in the first-half onslaught.
Cade Blevins, Addy Miller and Ryker Strong combined to notch a quartet of 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Kennon Gipson added a fifth in the second.
“That was insane,” Vandersnick said. “Shots were just falling in, and it was great playing on our home court for the first time in front of our fans. I think we just wanted to let them see what we can do.”
When the teams finally headed into the break, Rogersville held a 34-14 advantage.
For West Plains head coach Shane Benson, his squad’s early struggles were dictated by Rogersville’s defensive intensity.
“Their defense was even better than we already knew it was,” Benson said. “We weren’t very prepared for it, and I thought their defense just completely took us out of our game. It got us on our heels a little bit backing up, and then we didn’t cover people who we knew could shoot it a little bit. They started hitting the bucket and, when they did that, it was a snowball. We just didn’t react very good.”
While it’s easy for teams to follow up big runs with lackluster play, Rogersville managed to maintain its 20-point margin throughout most of the second half.
“I think we exerted a lot of energy, but we were able to sustain throughout the game, Schaefer said. “We didn’t play as clean and as fresh in the second half, but that’s kind of the price you pay to put out the energy that you do.”
Early in the fourth quarter, West Plains finally mounted a sustained run to chip into the deficit.
A trio of baskets from Taylor Harrison, Garrett Warren and Jake Swope helped cut the Rogersville lead to 13 points.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the Wildcats quickly responded.
A pair of Vandersnick free throws halted the Zizzer run, and then Rogersville was able to push the lead back to 20 with free throws down the stretch en route to the 57-37 win.
After the game, Schaefer praised his team’s ability to dig in its heels late in the game and turn back the West Plains run.
“They understand that we just have to be tough,” Schaefer said. “Grinding … we can do that. We do it every day, so if you can grind when you need to, it helps out in the big games, and they know how to do that.”
Blevens added 10 points for the Wildcats to join Vandersnick in double figures.
West Plains was led by 17 points from Swope and 13 from Harrison.
Up next for Rogersville (3-2) is a home matchup against Hillcrest on Tuesday, Dec. 18. West Plains (5-1) hosts Glendale that same evening.
Varsity Final: Rogersville 00, West Plains – 00
West Plains 05 09 12 11 — 37
Rogersville 23 11 09 14 — 57
West Plains scoring: Jake Swope – 17, Garrett Warren – 13, Taylor Harrison – 2, Mason Cochran – 2, Daegen Green – 1, Tommy Keller – 1, Allen Marcak – 1
Rogersville scoring: Luke Vandersnick – 22, Cade Blevins – 10, Kanon Gipson – 7, Addy Miller – 5, Ryker Strong – 5, Josh Linehan – 4, Zac Bergmann – 2, Andrew Sell – 2