LIBERTY — The Rock Bridge boys’ basketball team will have to make room for trophies on the bus trip back to Columbia.
After a 50-43 victory in the William Jewell tournament championship game against the Blue Springs Wildcats, the Bruins return with three awards: a first-place trophy in the Patterson Division, a tournament MVP trophy for junior Alex Austin, and an all-tournament team plaque with senior guard Terrell Turner’s name on it.
The championship victory was especially sweet for the Bruins, who hadn’t experienced success in their past five appearances winning six of 14 games.
Coach Jim Scanlon said he was pleased with his team’s effort and the result.
“I was happy for the kids,” Scanlon said. “I told them … we haven’t even been in the winners’ bracket, I don’t think. I am happy for them, it was a good test for us.”
The Bruins never relinquished the lead they took early in the first quarter after sophomore Erik Darkow made a 3-pointer to make it 3-2.
The Bruins used their size to get offensive rebounds that led to putbacks early on. They out-rebounded the smaller Wildcats 27-16.
The Bruins made baskets at critical times to maintain the lead, and the defense held even when the Bruins were missing.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Wildcat senior guard Larry Mandacina hit his fifth 3-pointer to bring it to 40-39 with a little more than four minutes left.
The Bruins squelched the momentum when Alex Austin hit a 3-pointer to make it 43-39 with three minutes left. It was Austin’s 15th 3-pointer, a tournament record.
The shot was a vindicating one for Austin, who returned in the fourth quarter. He was benched for the last half of the third quarter after committing a turnover.
“It felt good to get rid of previous things I did wrong,” said Austin.
The Bruins would have to answer another late rally however.
After Blue Springs guard Brian Reynolds hit a baseline jumper to make it 43-41 with 1 minute, 36 seconds left, the Bruins returned from a Blue Springs timeout and extended the lead to 45-41 after Turner made two free throws after being fouled after a give-and-go exchange with junior John Stull.
On the ensuing possession, Mandacina missed a wide-open 3-pointer that would have brought the Wildcats within a point with 50 seconds left.
Mandacina, who was selected to the all-tournament team and led the Wildcats (8-2) with 17 points and five 3-pointers, said the miss all but wrapped up the game for the Bruins.
“I felt like that was the icing of the game for them,” he said. “If I would have hit that it would have brought it to one.”
The offense was more balanced for the Bruins than in previous games. Turner led the team with 13 points, and Austin, Logan Gray, and Stull added eight points each.
The championship victory was in front of 2,315 in the Mabee Center at William Jewell. Scanlon said the pressure of playing in front of a large crowd should help his team in tough road games down the stretch.