A fast start to the game saved the season and won the Washington Blue Jays a district basketball championship.
Playing in the Class 5 District 10 Tournament title game, the top-seeded Blue Jays (19-9) jumped to a 21-2 lead and held on in the end for a 39-36 victory over third-seeded Waynesville Thursday at Rolla High School.
“I’m so proud of our guys. I’m proud of their effort and their ability to hang on, because that’s what we did. I don’t think I’ve seen a start like that to any game, let alone a district final. It was enough to hang on,” said Washington Head Coach Chip Sodemann. “I’m proud of our kids. I’m proud of our program. I’m proud of our community, our school. Our fans were awesome. They traveled on a school night to support us and the girls team. It means a lot. Washington has won only three district championships in the last 30 years and this is No. 4.”
It’s the first district title since 2008 for the Blue Jays, who advance to the Class 5 sectional round against the District 9 winner Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Camdenton High School.
“My senior year, I’m fortunate to play with some great players who all trust each other. Everybody made plays down to the end. It just feels great to finally accomplish what I’ve been dreaming of,” said Washington senior Luke Schroepfer.
“It’s awesome. Our main goal for the season has been to win a district championship and here we are. It’s an amazing feeling,” said Washington senior Jared Walde.
“This has been our goal. It feels good. It feels good to bring another district title to Washington,” said Washington junior Ronnie Suggs. “In 2008 when we won it, I was the water boy. It feels good to actually be on a team to do it.”
Washington’s sectional opponent will be determined Saturday night. It likely will be Hickman or Rock Bridge, but could also be Camdenton or Jefferson City.
The Blue Jays lost to Rock Bridge earlier in the season at Mizzou Arena.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” Sodemann said. “We’ll prepare like we always do for whoever it is we play. We’ll keep competing.”
Schroepfer led Washington in the scoring column against Waynesville with 16 points. Suggs added 10 points.
Jacob Mulkey finished with five points. Brad Carpenter netted four points. Jared Walde and Patrick Menke both scored two points.
Luke Hasenjaeger and Austin Subke both played significant minutes, but did not score.
“It definitely was a team effort. Luke and Ronnie had amazing games. Mulkey came in and had some great shots,” Walde said. “We played great. It was one of our best team wins of the season.”
Waynesville (14-13) got nine points apiece from 6-8 forward Kellieon Williams and 6-7 forward Juwan Morgan.
The Tigers had no answer for Washington’s zone defense through the first 12 minutes of the game. Although they were taller, the Tigers settled for perimeter shots for most of the contest.
“That’s what we try to hang our hat on is defense and trying to make teams take tough shots,” Sodemann said. “For the most part, we executed our game plan. They took a lot of perimeter shots and I don’t necessarily know that’s their strength. That advantage went to us.”
Leading 4-2 early in the game, the Blue Jays went on a 17-0 run in a span covering nearly nine minutes. They led 15-2 after one quarter and 21-2 with 4:30 left in the second quarter.
“Coach did a great job scouting. We knew exactly every play they were going to do against us. That’s probably why we held them to two points,” Schroepfer said. “We came out fired up and ready to play. This was the best start we’ve had all season.”
Facing a 19-point deficit, Waynesville finally got its offense going and began to chip away at Washington’s lead.
A 13-3 run pulled the Tigers to within 24-15 at halftime.
Washington held the lead for the entire second half, but it was single digits all the way.
“Teams always are going to make runs. That’s just the game of basketball. That’s why you play two halves. We played an exceptional first half,” Suggs said. “We were ready to play. Coach gave us some good words and got us ready. We got a little sloppy toward the end of the third quarter, but we all kept our heads in the game and were able to pull it out.”
Waynesville continued its run to start the second half, outscoring the Blue Jays 8-2 over the first four minutes to make the score 26-23.
All together, it was a 21-5 Waynesville run after Washington’s 21-2 run to make it a three-point game.
The Blue Jays led 30-27 after three quarters.
Waynesville got to within one point twice during the fourth quarter, but could never pull even.
“Coach said they’re a scrappy team and they always come back,” Walde said. “We’ve won close games before, so we knew we could pull this one out.”
Washington scored two field goals in the fourth quarter, a three-pointer by Mulkey and a bucket by Schroepfer.
The Blue Jays led 35-34 with 2:31 left to play.
Free throws by Schroepfer, Carpenter and Walde were just enough to seal the win.
“They didn’t hurt us on the boards super bad. They got a bunch of rebounds in the second half as they were making their run,” Sodemann said. “We battled. We never gave up. We didn’t get rattled. We had a couple of silly turnovers, but we did what it took.
“Down the stretch, we made plays. Luke had a big three after he missed a layup. Jared made two big free throws that seemed to touch every part of the rim. It seemed like we did just enough to survive. At this point, all it takes is to survive and advance.”
Sodemann said past games this season helped the Blue Jays win the district title.
“Those games early, the close ones at the Turkey Tournament, if you learn something from those games and those situations, then you know what to expect,” Sodemann said. “Playing teams like CBC, DeSmet and McCluer at the Meramec Tournament, that’s what you do so when you get to this point, you’ve seen it all. You’ve seen good athletes, great shooters and well-coached teams. That’s the whole point of playing a tough schedule and it paid off for us.”
The Blue Jays once again found a way.
“The atmosphere was great. Both student sections were awesome. There was constant screaming and yelling. We could barely hear each other out there,” Schroepfer said. “Everybody made plays when we needed to and we won.”