It took a comeback to end the district drought for the Eagles.
Sullivan’s boys basketball team (22-6) earned its 10th district championship and its first since 2003 Friday night in Union. The Eagles knocked off the Class 4 District 10 tournament’s No. 1 seed, Rolla (19-9), for the title, 48-38.
It marked the first district championship for Head Coach Dino McKinney, who has run the Sullivan program since the 2011-12 season.
McKinney’s team overcame a 24-12 halftime deficit and trailed by as much as 14 in the second half.
“They’re pretty hard-nosed kids and seniors, that helps, and some juniors mixed in,” McKinney said. “Again, I’m really just proud of them. It’s been a long time. I’ve never had one and it’s been 16 years since Sullivan had. We believe 2003 was the last time, so it’s pretty nice.”
With the win, Sullivan moves on to the sectional round Tuesday at Missouri S & T in Rolla where the Eagles will play Warrensburg (24-3) at 6 p.m.
Rolla held a slight 9-8 lead Friday after one quarter and then limited Sullivan to just four points in the second period to double up the Eagles at the end of the first half.
Sullivan cut into the Rolla lead in the third quarter, ending with a three-point shot from senior guard Cody McKinney at the buzzer to make it a 30-28 ballgame.
“I saw there was four seconds left,” Cody McKinney said. “I knew I had about two dribbles left, took a stepback shot. I honestly thought I banked it, but it went right in. I couldn’t be more happy about that.”
The Eagles tied the score with just over five minutes left on the clock and took the lead for the first time in the game on senior Landon Hoffman’s three-pointer with 4:21 remaining.
“That was a big one because he’d been struggling to get any looks off and what looks he did get, he kind of had to force early in the game,” Coach McKinney said. “That was a gigantic three right there and got us the lead for the first time.”
Rolla could never tie it up after that as Sullivan sent a combination of Hoffman and Cody McKinney to the free-throw line multiple times in the closing minutes to steadily pull away.
Cody McKinney scored 16 of his game high 26 points from the free-throw line in the contest and was 16-19 on the night.
Hoffman was 6-7 from the charity stripe as the Eagles put through 28 total free throws, overcoming attempts from the Rolla student section to throw them off.
“We’re used to it,” Hoffman said. “It comes every game, but we shoot a ton of free throws during practice and it paid off.”
Hoffman finished with nine points. Carter Adams contributed seven points, Jacob Rohrer three, Cameron Cunningham two and Austin Lewis one.
Alec Buhr led Rolla with 11 points in the contest, despite exiting early in the third quarter after a technical foul call. His exit served as one of the turning points for the Eagles defensively.
“When their best player, Alec Buhr, came out, that made it a lot easier because he’s a (heck) of a player,” Cody McKinney said. “We just came out in the second half with a lot of energy and went from there.”
Following Buhr for the Bulldogs were Colby Shivers (seven points), RJ Alfred (six), Muluken Pritchett (four), Trey Brown (four), Trey Quick (four) and Blaize Klossner (two).
Sullivan was able to limit Rolla to just six points in the third quarter and only 14 points total in the second half.
“I thought we did a great job defensively in the second half,” Coach McKinney said. “I thought we did a good job in the first half defensively, holding them to 24. We just didn’t score in the first half and they did a great job defensively on us. They did take away threes all night long, which has kind of been our staple, but we did get to the rack in the second half and that was huge and then made free throws when we had to.”
In Rolla, the Eagles took down one of the larger Class 4 programs in the state and a team that had finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association.
“It’s the first one we’ve had in 16 years,” Hoffman said. “It really means something to beat a bigger school like that.”
Sullivan’s next opponent, Warrensburg, ended the regular season ranked No. 8 in the MBCA polls. The route through the state playoffs will take the winner to Waynesville High School Saturday at 1 p.m. against either the District 11 champion, Logan-Rogersville (22-5) or the District 12 champion, Webb City (16-9).