Rock Bridge boys basketball looks for redemption against Branson

Friday, March 4, 2011 | 8:52 p.m. CST; updated 8:59 p.m. CST, Friday, March 4, 2011

COLUMBIA — On the opening day of the True/False film festival, the Rock Bridge Bruins might have been watching the worst film in town. As players and coaches gathered to watch tape of a Jan. 22 Branson loss, coach Jim Scanlon stopped it and rewound it repeatedly to point out mistakes.

There were many..

“It was horrible,” Scanlon said of the film session. “There were no good parts to the game.”

Watching the film of the 63-58 loss was sobering for all of them, especially after the team cruised past Waynesville in the Class 5 sectionals the day before. In winning its 10th consecutive game, the Bruins advanced to the quarterfinals on Saturday to face the last team to beat them — Branson.

The film session served both as a reminder of how far Rock Bridge (23-4) has come and as warning of how far the team still has to go before reaching its second Show-Me Showdown in three years.

“It was tough to watch,” junior Will Echelmeier said. “We didn’t look very good.”

Rock Bridge and Branson are both changed teams since their January meeting. Branson (21-9) has won nine straight games and upset Nixa and Kickapoo to win the District 11 championship.

The Bruins, though, will be motivated by the opportunity to redeem themselves from the game Scanlon called the low point of the season.

“It was the worst game we played,” he said. “We didn’t run, we didn’t play hard, we didn’t do anything. I think we only had one or two 3-pointers, so we didn’t hit shots. We only lost by five, but we were really god-awful.”

After trailing by 13 after the first quarter, Rock Bridge outscored Branson 48-40 the rest of the game — giving the Bruins reason to believe they can win the rematch. In the days following the game, the coaches questioned the team’s effort more than its skill. Sophomore Manuale Watkins said he saw the four seniors step up in practice thereafter, and it spread to the rest of the team.

“We follow our seniors, and when they’re focused, we’re focused,” Watkins said. “They pushed us younger players to the limit, and we had strong practices and it showed in the games.”

Since then, Rock Bridge beat the former top-ranked team in Class 3, Hogan Prep, Jefferson City and Hickman twice. Scanlon credited an increase in the team’s effort after the Branson loss.

“Our bench has become stronger and we’ve been playing well," he said. "We’ve come a long way, and the right way. Maybe it’s destiny that we meet again.”

Watkins and freshman Nick Norton have been the two bench players who have benefited most, but Watkins especially didn’t enjoy the film session on Thursday as he watched his lazy performance.

“There were times when I would throw the ball up the court and the camera would pan to half court,” Watkins said. “We’d only have four players (on the screen), and three seconds later I’d come up the court walking or running slowly.”

To beat Branson, the Bruins will have to do more than simply work harder, though. The Pirates have one of the best players in the state in Avery Dingman, a 6-foot-6 guard who will play for Creighton University next year.

“I don’t think we were aware of him enough last time,” Scanlon said. “He didn’t dominate the game, but he can score when he wants to. He’s really the only size they have, too.”

Echelmeier said he expects, and actually hopes for, another close game.

"It's two good teams which are playing their best basketball," he said. "It should be fun.

"They’re a really good team, but we think we can beat them," Watkins said. "We wanted another chance, and now we have one. We're ready."

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