By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Rock Bridge’s senior class, led by a “Big Three” of Dajuan Harris, Iaiaih Mosley and Jamonta Black are familiar with playoff heartbreak.
As a sophomores, the “Baby Bruins” went toe-to-toe with favorite Kickapoo before falling 71-65 in the quarterfinals.
Last year Rock Bridge lost by three to Chaminade in the Class 5 semifinals, forcing them to settle for third-place.
Now, the group of accomplished seniors is headed back to the Final Four following a 77-57 Class 5 Quarterfinal win over Kickapoo at Southwest Baptist University on Saturday.
“Last year we really wanted it bad and thought we could’ve won it,” said Harris. “This was a big game. It’s huge to get this win and go back to the Final Four.”
Harris set the tone on the game’s opening play, converting a steal into a lay-up, giving Rock Bridge a 2-0 lead that they would never give up. In fact, the Bruins scored the game’s first 10 points with Harris totaling seven points, four steals and three assists in the opening quarter.
Harris, a Missouri State signee along with Black, finished with 20 points, seven steals and six assists.
What Harris started, classmate Mosley finished.
Mosley’s future is uncertain, but his game is not. The 6-foot-5 wing scored a game-high 29 points, 15 of which came in the third quarter where Mosley showed the full repertoire by scoring all three levels.
The Big Three combined for 58 points.
“What makes them tough is their three stars all complement each other really well,” said Kickapoo coach Mitch McHenry. “Dajuan does a great job of running the show and setting up teammates. He was more aggressive trying to score at basket then we have seen recently, but if you load up to the ball with him he is going to find a teammate and they have guys that can score all around him. Mosley didn’t miss many shots. We wanted to challenge his perimeter shots which we did but he just made them.”
For as good as Rock Bridge was offensively, the key to the game was their ability to get timely stops and provide a team approach to stopping Kickapoo sophomore standout Anton Brookshire.
Brookshire, the Class 5 – District 11 Player of the Year, came in averaging 19 points and five assists. While the future Division One guard hit his scoring average, it took him 19 shots to do so.
The Bruins threw everything they had at Brookshire, using a variety of defenders and denying him the ball the length of the floor, at times using two defenders to do so.
“He’s tough,” said Rock Bridge head coach Jim Scanlon. “He shoots the three and he can get to the rim and score. We kind of went back to how we’ve played all year and it worked for us. You have to be careful with him and not let him catch the ball too much because he’s really good with the ball in his hands. He’s a good player.”
Rock Bridge was able to increase a 13-point halftime lead to 20 by the end of the third.
On several occasions Kickapoo made runs to cut the deficit to as few as 10 points, but each run was met with a Rock Bridge answer.
For McHenry, some of that can be equated to the big-game experience of the Bruins.
“I thought our kids did a great job battling and giving ourselves a chance if we could just get a few more breaks,” said McHenry. “The problem was when we got it to 10 or 12 we just couldn’t get over the hump and get it down to a two-possession game. This is their third year in a row at this game and that experience can’t be taught. It was our kids first year as varsity players in that position and I think the experience they gained this year will hopefully help us next year if we are able to get back to the quarterfinal game.”
Kickapoo exceeded expectations throughout the 2018-19 season, one that was thought to see the likes of Parkview, Joplin or Republic be the team to make an Elite Eight run.
The Chiefs will miss seniors Tanner Oetting, David Senn, Luke Rebmann and Jalen McGarrah.
But, going out with Ozark Conference and District 11 championships, as well as a quarterfinal appearance, is a great ending for a group that epitomized team.
“I really enjoyed our group of guys,” said McHenry. “I think as a head coach when you have a group that you first hand watch grow closer together and trust each other more and more as the season goes along it is one of the most rewarding things about coaching. I thought our guys really came together at the end of the year and did whatever it took to advance to the next round, which is what enabled us to make it this far.”
For Rock Bridge, the grind continues.
The Bruins advance to play in the Class 5 Final Four on Friday, Mar. 15, at Hammons Student Center. They’ll look to send of their own unique group of seniors with a historic run.
“They wanted to win this and get back to the Final Four,” said Scanlon. “I’m just happy for everyone involved and everyone in Rock Bridge that we get to go back. We have six seniors, all good kids and all good players, and it would be nice to finish this off the right way for them. I think we’ve been playing really good basketball this last stretch of the season and that’s what you want. We’ll enjoy this one, rest tomorrow and get back to work on Monday.”
Rock Bridge 77, Kickapoo 57
Rock Bridge 22-14-27-14 – 77
Kickapoo 8-15-20-14 – 57
Rock Bridge (23-4) – Mosley 29, Harris 20, Black 9, Wilson 8, Ungles 5, Patrick 3, Brown 3.
Kickapoo (22-5) – Brookshire 19, Senn 10, McIntire 11, Oetting 8, Bridgers 5, Liggins 3, Rebernabb 1.