Rockets beat Clearwater in sub-state final, return to 4A State

LIONEL TIPTON | BCTG SPORTS
The Rose Hill Rockets continue to be one of the hottest teams in the state as they beat Clearwater in the sub-state finals for the second straight year to advance to the Class 4A Tournament.

ROSE HILL – Early on, Rose Hill’s chances of advancing in the Class 4A Tournament were taking a serious hit.

Fourth-seeded Clearwater, which had already ousted its sub-state’s top seed, Mulvane, was threatening to snatch the state playoff berth away from the second-seeded Rockets on their own court.

The Indians erased an early 11-4 Rose Hill lead by going on an 11-2 run to end the first quarter and held a 15-13 lead.

But the Rockets adjusted, outscoring Clearwater 24-16 in the second half for a 51-44 victory. 

Rose Hill (14-5) advances to a Monday night quarterfinal game at Augusta (15-5), a 59-51 winner over Andale. The Rockets went to state a year ago and will be going back-to-back for the first time since 1992-93.

“One more time with Augusta,” Rockets coach Josh Shirley said. “(It’s a) quick turnaround, and that’s tough this year. Usually, you win a sub-state final and you have until Thursday or so to enjoy it. This year, it’s a quick turnaround. You’ve got to go play Monday. They’re tough and it’s going to be a battle.”

Win Monday, and the Rockets will advance to the 4A semifinals in Salina. 

“We keep telling the guys, this is where you cash the check and this is what you did everything for, to try to get you to this moment.” 

Augusta could be gunning for revenge for a 71-58 Rose Hill upset Feb. 9, of the then-No. 4 Orioles. In that game, junior guard Adriel Smith had 31 points and junior Xander Landrie 11. That game, however, was at Rose Hill. 

Usually in Rose Hill victories, Smith is scoring somewhere around 30 points.

“They shot us out of the zone (defense) a little bit,”’ he said. “But we made the adjustment at halftime, and it worked out for us.”

But Friday night’s game was more of a total team effort. Smith still scored a team-high 15 points, but he was followed closely by Landrie with 10 points, senior Spencer Nolan with nine – all in the second half – and sophomore Kellan Simoneau with eight.

Afterward, Smith said he was excited about going to the state tournament.

“It’s my first time,” he said. “I don’t think there’s too many greater feelings I’ve had in my life.”

Landrie said: “That’s awesome. It’s my first time (going to state), so that’s awesome.”

Nolan was especially clutch for the Rockets (14-5), repeatedly getting fouled late in the game and hitting five of six free throws, thwarting any Clearwater comeback.

He said he knew how important those free throws were.

“We needed them bad,” he said. “I had a terrible first half, in my opinion.

“We knew if they were hitting their shots, we were going to have to come out in the second half and close out on shooters.”

Nolan said the showdown with Augusta has its roots in last season’s state tournament.

“We didn’t get them in the final four last year because of (the coronavirus pandemic), so it’s going to be a matchup that we been waiting for over a year.

“It’s whoever comes out and plays. It’s going to be a good Butler County matchup.”

Smith was hindered somewhat by foul trouble, picking up his third with 3:15 left in the third quarter.

“He’s an aggressive player,” Shirley said. “You take it; you live with it as hard as he goes to the rim. For as hard as he goes to the rim, it’s uncanny how many charges have not been taken on him, because he’s going hard to the rim every single possession.

“He’s a smart enough basketball player that we feel comfortable up to three fouls. He’s going to be smart enough to keep himself in the game.”

Clearwater (8-13) literally came out firing, hitting five three-pointers in the first half and leading by as many as eight points in the first half before Rose Hill closed the gap to 28-27 at halftime.

But the Indians would only hit three more three-pointers the rest of the way and were held to seven total points in the fourth quarter.

“We went into the locker room and told them we’ve got to lock down a little bit defensively,” Shirley said. “We played zone early, because the (6-5 Brett) Gibbs kid inside had hurt us really bad. We were set on stopping Gibbs inside, and then (Dalen) Ankerholz and (Jake) Wellington shot the ball extremely well and pulled us out of our plan.

“We had to adjust (the defense), and we went back to our man-to-man, and our guys pressured well.”

Shirley emphasized Rose Hill’s comparative height difference, giving up a couple of inches at each position. 

“They had size on us, and we thought we had some quickness on them, and so that’s why we wanting to push (the) pace, and we hope that maybe tired legs would prevail.”

Wellington, a senior, was Clearwater’s big gun, hitting four of the team’s eight three-pointers and finishing with a game-high 17. And many of Clearwater’s threes weren’t straddling the arc but were a few feet behind the line. 

A relieved Shirley said he wasn’t surprised at Clearwater’s high level of play.

“We told the kids coming in that their record (8-13) was very deceiving,” he said.

He said the Indians have had to deal with the effects of COVID as well as injuries. Wellington played about 16 games and fellow senior Tanner Cash played 18, Shirley said.

“They had some games where they played without their key guys,” Shirley said. “They’re just a very, very talented squad.”

Rose Hill boys 51, Clearwater 44

Clearwater 15;13;9;7 – 44

Rose Hill  13;14;10;14 – 51

CLEARWATER – Wellington 2(4) 1-2 17, Ankerholz 1(3) 0-0 11, Gibbs 3 1-2 7, Cash 1(1) 0-2 5, Trotter 2 0-0 4. Totals 9(8) 2-4 44.

ROSE HILL – Smith 7 1-2 15, Landrie 2(2) 0-0 10, Nolan 2 5-6 9, Simoneau 2(1) 1-2 8, Earsery 1(1) 0-0 5, Koehler 2 0-0 4. Totals 16(4) 7-10 51.