By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Sometimes, the hype is deserved.
In a clash of area heavyweights, Logan-Rogersville (ranked No. 9 in Class 4) found another gear in the second half en route to a 76-70 victory over Springfield Catholic (ranked No. 2 in Class 3).
The Wildcats were led by Luke Vandersnick and Cade Blevins with 31 and 18 points, respectively; however, a trio of unheralded teammates turned out to be difference-makers in the back-and-forth battle.
With primary ball-handler Ryker Strong plagued with foul trouble for most of the game, Caleb Lowe, Kanon Gipson and Josh Linehan all rose to the occasion with clutch performances in a pivotal second half.
From the opening tip, it was the home team firing on all cylinders, as the Irish raced out to an 8-0 run.
Catholic’s Jake Branham went to work early, scoring 4 of his team-high 23 points during the three-minute stretch.
For Wildcats head coach John Schaefer, limiting Branham’s opportunities was a key part of the team’s defensive game plan.
“We just wanted to eliminate Branham as much as we could and put most of our matchup zone against him,” Schaefer said. “Those other guys — we were going to make them make shots.”
Rogersville’s start took an even worse turn in the game’s first minute when Strong was whistled for a pair of fouls and forced to the bench.
Despite the sluggish start, the Wildcats were able to stay in the game thanks to the efforts of Vandersnick and Blevins.
By the time the teams broke for halftime, Rogersville had trimmed the deficit to two at 32-30.
Schaefer lamented his team’s slow start.
“I just thought that we were scared early,” Schaefer said. “Once we calmed down, we relaxed and played without pressure — and then made shots.”
In the third, it was Rogersville’s turn to seize momentum — and make shots — with Lowe and Gipson combining for 14 points in the period.
Lowe was particularly effective, hitting a pair of 3-pointers late in the quarter to help Rogersville stretch its lead to as many as eight. Not to be outdone, Gipson connected on his own pair of long-range shots earlier in the period.
Lowe was quick to credit others for his success.
“Honestly, my teammates got me open,” Lowe said. “I’m not supposed to score, so they took all the pressure off of me. They just threw me an open pass, and I got it. Kanon hit some pretty tough shots — he’s just a sophomore — and it’s incredible that he’s hitting those shots in this type of game.”
Gipson finished the game with 10 points for the Wildcats, joining Vandersnick and Blevins in double figures.
Schaefer praised his bench for stepping up in the biggest of moments.
“We really got great minutes from kids off the bench,” Schaefer said. “Caleb Lowe was huge, and that’s a great game for him. He struggled shooting the ball all year, and he knocks down two big 3s in probably the biggest game of the year so far. This is what high school basketball is all about.”
A Blevins dunk opened up the fourth quarter, helping Rogersville push its lead to 13 and igniting the 60+ Rogersville students in attendance. For a moment, it looked like the Wildcats could be on the verge of a blowout.
Catholic had other ideas.
Midway through the period, Branham erupted with eight-straight points to trim the Rogersville lead to three at 66-63. During the run, Branham eclipsed the 1,500-point milestone for his career.
With the game on the line and the Irish threatening, it was Linehan’s turn to shine.
After drawing fouls on drives to the basket, the junior guard calmly connected on four-straight free throw attempts to push the Rogersville lead back to eight with just over a minute remaining.
The junior guard recalled a similar moment that didn’t turn out quite as well.
“Well, I was just thinking back to the Blue and Gold, when I missed two free throws in that situation,” Linehan said. “I didn’t want to let that happen again, so I’ve been working on my free throws — I shot those with more confidence.”
For Schaefer, Linehan stepped up at the perfect time for the Wildcats.
“Josh is a big scoring key for us because he can score the basketball, but he’s very unselfish,” Schaefer said. “At times he plays the passive role but, when we need him, he can go get baskets. He’s long, athletic and he’s sneaky around the basket, so he can get worm his way in there and get some fouls called.”
For Catholic head coach Dustin Larsen, adjusting to Rogersville’s physical style of play during the second half played a significant role in the contest.
“We gave them a number of second opportunities,” Larsen said. “Points off second opportunities was pretty critical and led to multiple points for them, so that was probably the biggest key.”
Despite the loss, Larsen relished the opportunity to compete nightly with a challenging schedule. Prior to Tuesday, Catholic’s only two losses were to nationally-ranked teams during the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
“It’s always gonna be a challenging game and a tough game when you play Rogersville,” Larsen said. “With them ten miles apart and in the same conference, it’s always in good spirit and good competition. Those are the types of games that make you better. It might not have ended the way we wanted it to tonight, but that will tell us a lot about ourselves as we grow from this point on.”
Charlie O’Reilly (21), Zach Howell (12) and Tyson Riley (10) all joined Branham in double figures for the Irish.
Varsity Final: Rogersville – 76, Catholic – 70
Rogersville 16 14 25 21 — 76
Catholic 19 13 15 23 — 70
Rogersville scoring: Luke Vandersnick – 31, Cade Blevins – 18, Kanon Gipson – 10, Caleb Lowe – 8, Josh Linehan – 9
Catholic scoring: Jake Branham – 23, Charlie O’Reilly – 21, Zach Howell – 12, Tyson Riley – 10, Michael Manzardo – 2, Will Morrison – 2
Frosh final: Rogersville – 61, Catholic – 60
JV final: Catholic – 49, Rogersville – 43