COLUMBIA — Jim Scanlon sat at the top of the stands, stone-faced. His team had already gone home after routing Smith-Cotton in the semifinals, but as the coach, Scanlon still had work to do.
His assistant coach, Dru Linebach, sat next to him, a video camera perched on a tripod between them. Scanlon remained expressionless as he soaked in the game. It takes focus to scout a game, and the one between Hickman and Jefferson City was no different. After all, Rock Bridge would be playing against one of them for the district title.
Rock Bridge (22-4) vs. Hickman (15-10)
Where: Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia
When: 7:45 p.m. Friday
But with about two minutes left in the game, Scanlon had seen enough. He packed up the camera and headed back to the locker room.
Hickman was going to win. And it was time to get ready.
Scanlon's Bruins have won four district championships in the past five years. Friday's game against the Kewpies will be the chance for two in a row. The Bruins are ranked No. 6 in the state by mosports.rivals.com and have the best record in District 9.
But for Scanlon, this isn't an excuse for the Bruins to let their guard down, himself especially. As a coach who can be frequently seen scouting his opponents, tucked away in the crowd like just another fan, his routine remained the same.
Even going into a game against a Hickman team that Rock Bridge has beaten twice this year by an average of 17 points. Even against a team that Rock Bridge has beaten 20 times in a row. Even when they are the clear favorites for the district title.
For his team, Scanlon is still emphasizing the message he has repeated all season: Get better.
Improvement was the focus after his team's overtime victory against Helias Catholic in the last game of the season. After dominating Helias by 36 points earlier in the season, the Bruins had a much more difficult time winning the second time around, a gut check for a Bruins team that has been strong all season.
"We're going to have to get a whole lot better before next week," Scanlon said after the game.
Crash the boards. Box out. Play better defense. Whatever it takes for Rock Bridge to play its best basketball, Scanlon is pushing it to his players. After almost losing to a team they'd beaten earlier in the year, the Bruins are focusing on playing their best basketball in order to repeat as district champs.
Senior Corey Haith, who saw his first real action of the season in the semifinals after sitting out a month with a broken hand, has repeatedly said that the team is going to win districts and that anything less would be considered a failure. Personally, he has one goal for the rest of his final year playing at Rock Bridge.
"Play as hard as I can," Haith said. "Play as hard and as far as I can and help my team."
Senior guard Carter Marcks, who scored 8 points off the bench for the Bruins in the semifinals, is also playing in his final postseason game for the Bruins. One of the team's better 3-point shooters, Marcks said he's going to focus on his strengths when he gets in the game.
"If I get in there, whenever I get my minutes, I'll play to the best of my ability," Marcks said. "And if I get an open shot, I'll shoot it and give my all on defense because that's a big part of it."
After the overtime win against Helias, starting sophomore point guard Nick Norton said the team had to work on keeping its confidence up.
"We have to get more confident in our shots, pick up our defense from basket to basket and just know that we're not going to be stopped on any night," Norton said. "We're going to give everybody a battle."
That same night, Haith already had that confidence.
"We're going to play hard, and we're going to win districts without a doubt," Haith said.
The Bruins and the Kewpies tip off for the district title at 7:45 p.m. Friday at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia.