By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Four years ago, in coach Luke Floyd’s first season, Rolla finished winless.
Fast forward to Monday night, and the Bulldogs were in position to secure at least a share of the Ozark Conference championship.
Kickapoo, the reigning queens of the Ozark Conference, wasn’t ready to abide just yet.
In a matchup with major implications for the Ozark Conference championship, Kickapoo outlasted a much-improved Rolla squad 62-55.
The victory puts Kickapoo (18-6 overall, 7-1 OC) in position for at least a share of the Ozark Conference title. Kickapoo won the league title outright the past three seasons.
“I’ve been so proud of our team this season,” said Chiefs coach Jim Pendergrass. “We’ve made tremendous strides to get better, from (the start) to now. It’s a fun group to coach.”
The loss snapped Rolla’s 18-game winning streak. The Bulldogs hadn’t loss since a 63-23 setback against Jefferson City on Nov. 26.
“We’re disappointed and we should be, but we’re 22 games into the season and this is our third loss,” Floyd said. “We’ve come a long ways. You hate to lose, but nothing’s been lost as far as our goals go.”
Kickapoo sophomore Indya Green led all players with 21 points, many of which came on putbacks near the basket. Classmate Chloe Merced added 18 points for the Chiefs.
Green had 15 of her 21 points in the first half.
“Indya’s averaging over 10 rebounds per game. Tonight, she did a fantastic job against post players who can match her size and athleticism,” Pendergrass said. “She’s been an extremely consistent player all season. She’s a huge key to our success.”
Kickapoo can earn a share of the Ozark Conference title with a victory Thursday night at Waynesville.
Ellie Rodgers scored 18 to lead Rolla. Loran Pritchett added 17 points.
Saddled in foul trouble most of the game, Kickapoo freshman Bella Fontleroy gave the Chiefs a late spark. She drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:25 left that gave Kickapoo a 56-53 lead.
“She was able to stay mentally in the game when she wasn’t physically in the game,” Pendergrass said. “She came back and we needed those plays from her in the fourth quarter.”
Later, Fontleroy forced a turnover and sank two free throws to extend Kickapoo’s lead to 58-55. Rolla missed a potential tying 3-pointer on its next possession and Kickapoo would grab the rebound and make two free throws to seal the win.
“I thought we played a good game,” Floyd said. “Every run (Kickapoo) made on us, we had a run of our own. They just happened to have the last run, and we ran out of time.”
The Chiefs were eight-for-nine at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Merced went six-for-seven at the line in that span.
“This year, we’ve struggled at the line at times,” Pendergrass said. “Tonight, when we needed them the most, we made (free throws).”
Rolla (19-3 overall, 6-1 OC) can still earn a share of the Ozark Conference title. The Bulldogs need to win at Glendale on Thursday night and beat Lebanon at home next Monday.
Floyd has built Rolla into a contender during his tenure at the school. The Bulldogs were winless in his first season, 6-19 overall the next season, 8-17 in 2016-17 and 13-14 last season.
“He’s done a magnificent job with that program,” Pendergrass said. “He’s hung with it and Rolla’s hung with him. They have a good team.”
Kickapoo 62, Rolla 55
Rolla 9 16 14 16 — 55
Kickapoo 12 14 11 25 — 62
Rolla – Ellie Rodgers 18, Loran Pritchett 17, Savannah Campbell 7, Carli Libhart 6, Rebecca Janke 4, Olivia Burken 2, Kianna Garner 1
Kickapoo – Indya Green 21, Chloe Merced 18, Leah Fredrick 8, Macie Conway 6, Bella Fontleroy 5, Kaylee Corbin 2, Madie Barrett 2