The stakes were high Monday night at School of the Osage.
The Indians welcomed Southern Boone in a battle between state-ranked teams and Osage’s undefeated mark and first place standing in the Tri-County Conference were on the line. The Class 4 No. 7 Indians proved they had what it took to keep it that way as they protected their home floor with a 68-51 win over the visiting Class 3 No. 5 ranked Eagles.
“It feels really great. I know we definitely prepared for this all week long and we did not want to have the same feeling we had last time because they ran the clock on us and we are all just not used to that,” Osage senior Kendal Miller said referring to the first meeting between the teams where Southern Boone won by 31 points in the Tri-County Conference Tournament championship. “So we put in a lot of hard work throughout this week and we just came out with a win.”
The Indians certainly looked prepared and it was needed as the game was much closer than the final score may indicate. Throughout the first half neither side providing breathing room to the other with the largest lead being a six-point advantage for Southern Boone who took a 31-27 lead into halftime.
The lead was exchanged three times early in the third quarter, but after both sides were tied at 36 the Indians broke the game wide open with an 8-2 run and gained an advantage they would not give up the rest of the night. Holding onto a six-point lead after the third quarter, Osage busted the game wide open with a 7-2 run and created a gap that could not be closed.
That was due in part to an Osage defense that made things difficult for the opposition and limited many possessions to a single shot.
“In the first half there were not many points scored so I think both teams played really good defense,” Osage coach Scott Rowland noted. “Our defense just kind of rose to the occasion. I think we made their shots difficult and ‘The Big Three’ in (Kylie) Shoot, (Faryn) Griffin and (Skyler) Beeson are just such talented players that you have to make it tough for them.”
Osage senior Jordyn Bartlett, for one, is certainly glad they did.
“Usually we are not too bad at defense, but tonight we really played our hearts out and it is such a relief and great feeling all combined,” she said.
The Indians also took care of business on the offensive end and found the bottom of the net from inside and outside the paint as four players reached double-figures through unselfish play. Bartlett knocked down a team-leading 16 points while Miller finished with 15, sophomore Kerrigan Gamm chipped in 14 and fellow sophomore Carson Wood added 14 respectively.
“We had a lot of people here and Southern Boone brought a lot of people so it was just a fun high school game and both teams were just going faster than anything,” Rowland pointed out. “We can play fast, but I thought we were playing a little bit fast and loose. In the second half we took better advantage of the things that were there. We pushed it when it was there and did not when it wasn’t and I thought that was a big key.”
Bartlett, who Rowland nicknamed “Stretch”, also did her part to help stretch out the lead by recording a double-double that saw the senior collect 12 rebounds while also blocking four shots.
“In the first game she had two points maybe and they (Southern Boone) did a great job on her. They really frustrated her, got her in some foul trouble and made her guard where she did not want to have to guard,” Rowland recalled of his 6-foot-2 center. “I thought she did a better job tonight of staying at home and making them shot over her. Then she was doing a much better job of checking and going and getting it (rebound) when a shot would go up.
“We were not giving up those second and third shots because a team like Southern Boone is good enough that you cannot give them more than two shots every now and then. If you give them three shots you are just going to get beat and that is what happened the other time we played them,” Rowland added.
Despite their best efforts, any attempt of a comeback by Southern Boone was quickly stymied by Osage’s sharp shooting at the free throw line. The Indians were able to rely on a number of contributors at the charity stripe shooting 70 percent as a team and that bodes well for any future situation that requires those crucial points.
“For the year I think we are at about 64 percent or so and that will go up after tonight. The people that were shooting them is who you want at the line,” Rowland stated. “Jordyn is a good free throw shooter, Kendal knocked down four in a row, Kerrigan made a ton and did a great job and Claire (Colonius) does not shoot tons of them, but boy she stepped up and made a couple tonight.”
Osage (19-3, 5-0 Tri-County) still controls its own destiny in the conference race, but Rowland said it will not be an easy path with California and Eldon still left on the schedule.
“Those are two really good teams and we have California on the road. We have a pretty rough road to go the rest of the way, but I would rather be here than 4-1 and thinking that we have to win out,” Rowland stated. “It was a great job by them focusing, handling the idea of knowing that we have to win this game and then going ahead and doing it.”
Of course, a win over the state-ranked Eagles who reached the Final Four a season ago should do well for the team’s overall confidence as they look to close out the regular season and head into districts on a high-note.
“They were pretty excited. I just told them that I was proud of them and this was a great win for them,” Rowland said of the post-game talk in the locker room. “I just said that if anything is going to give you confidence going forward, to beat a team as good as they are, that kind of validates who you are and ought to help you as you head forward.”
The Indians will host Skyline on Thursday night at 6 p.m.