Will Echelmeier’s eyes grew wide when he realized no one had followed him to the corner of the court.
The Rock Bridge guard had already drained two 3-pointers from that area in the third quarter. His defender lost him under the basket when he cut along the baseline, and now he had found his spot once more.
With urgency in his voice, Echelmeier called for the ball. It came his way, but not before a defender realized what was happening yet again. This time Echelmeier would not have an open shot.
It didn’t matter. Echelmeier caught the pass and released the shot in one motion. It was like the hand in his face wasn’t even there.
“That was awesome,” Echelmeier said. “When you hit one you want to look for some more because that’s when you catch ‘em.”
Echelmeier was as selective with the “when” as he was with the “where”. All three of his 3-pointers came in the third quarter, helping to break open a close game and leading Rock Bridge a 64-49 win over Hogan Prep, the top-ranked team in Class 3, on Friday.
Tied at 29 returning from halftime, Rock Bridge (18-4) outscored Hogan Prep 19-8 in the third quarter. Hogan Prep (16-5) had beaten an opponent (Nixa) that had beaten Rock Bridge, but stopping an on-fire Echelmeier was beyond its control.
“Our guys pretty much find him, and he knocks it down whether he catches it or takes it off the dribble,” Rock Bridge guard Matt Kelly said. “Will’s a really, really good shooter.”
Kelly emphasized that Echelmeier can shoot from anywhere beyond the arc, and Echelmeier, who led Rock Bridge with 15 points, agreed while trying not to sound cocky. He talked about how much he practices 3-pointers in practice, and, on a team with many athletic guards, he has gone about making the long ball his niche.
“Everyone has roles, and mine is to shoot 3s,” he said. “I can do other things, but that’s one of my main jobs. With a lot of work you get confidence and feel comfortable there.”
On Friday he said it wasn’t that he necessarily felt more comfortable in the corner but that he found himself open there. On consecutive possessions he hit 3-pointers in the right corner to stretch Rock Bridge’s lead toeight points, and after that he semiconsciously worked his way back to either corner.
“The ball seems to come to me there, I guess,” he said.
Echelmeier said coach Jim Scanlon told the team at halftime to tighten up its defense but otherwise to continue doing what they were doing. He got more than he bargained for in Echelmeier’s streak.
“I think he struggled early because they got to the ball quickly,” Scanlon said. “(Then) he had those back-to-back threes, and he really stretched out the defense.”
Echelmeier’s shooting hand didn’t suddenly get hot. He led Rock Bridge with 18 points in a 69-51 win over Jefferson City on Thursday and made three 3-pointers in the first quarter against Springfield Central on Tuesday, ending with 12 points.
His performance against Hogan Prep — on both ends of the court — might have been the biggest. Hogan Prep’s offensive came down to isolating its best players and leaving them to play one-on-one. Many times the Rams cleared out for Robert Thompson, whom Echelmeier was guarding.
Thompson scored just six points.
“Their strategy was more to pick on certain matchups,” Echelmeier said. “Some were picking on me, and that’s fine. It’s a challenge.”