School of the Osage got back on track Thursday night.
After stringing together six straight wins the Indians were hit two straight losses, but they did not let those woes continue in a 67-45 win at Eldon to close out the regular season. Of course, playing the neighbors up Highway 54 may have provided a little extra incentive.
“Eldon is our rival so we want to do anything we can to beat them. We came in knowing they were going to do anything they could to beat us,” said Osage junior Carson Wood who had a career night leading the Indians with 29 points. “They kind of came back so we had to make sure we stayed focused and played our game. It went our way, which was really nice.”
Eldon, which trailed by 10 at halftime, had the early momentum to start off the third quarter as the Mustangs closed the gap within six points. However, the Indians methodically managed to eventually stretch the lead back out to 20 midway through the fourth and put the game out of reach.
“Offensively we started hitting some shots, but defensively we did not get the stops we needed and we cannot afford to trade buckets with a team of that caliber,” Eldon coach Ashley Agee noted. “We also hurt ourselves with our unforced turnovers, which is something that has killed us all season.”
Hitting high percentage shots inside the paint on the offensive end was part of the key for Osage, but a few defensive adjustments proved to be just as effective. The first primary objective was slowing down Eldon’s primary scorer in senior Macie Halderman, who is currently averaging a double-double for the Mustangs. Then, a change in defensive looks got the Indians off and running.
“They just did a nice job of knowing where she (Halderman) was and making things difficult for her. She is going to get her points- I mean, she is too good to stop- but I thought we did a good job of making her work in the zone,” Osage coach Scott Rowland said of his team’s defensive efforts.
“We played zone really well in the first half, but it did not get us going. We play a lot more man than we do zone and I think we were kind of flat and they (Eldon) were moving better than we were,” he added of Eldon’s attempted comeback. “Getting out of it and getting into man I think was exactly what the doctor ordered and got us going again.”
Osage certainly got going offensively as three Indians reached double figures. Senior Kenzie King also had a career night with 20 points and junior Kerrigan Gamm put up 12 points of her own to help fuel the offense. King, for one, was quick to credit her teammates for her success and she is glad that she gets to go out a winner in what could have potentially been her last game against the rival.
“It is pretty good to have teammates that help you get open and get open themselves, so it is fun to get open looks,” the senior said. “I’ve played with these girls basically my whole life so it just makes it even better to come out with the win in the end.”
Of course, being able to penetrate the defense and create good looks at the basket is something Osage will gladly enjoy.
“It is really nice when you are also the smaller people,” Wood said laughingly. We do not really get to go in so when you go against smaller teams it is fun. I love to be the post (player).”
Meanwhile, Halderman paced Eldon with 15 points while sophomore Kayleigh Fike recorded 12 and junior Haley Clifton finished with eight. The scoreboard may not have pointed in favor of the home team, but Agee also saw some good things from her club like the way they moved the ball and particularly the efforts of Halderman, Clifton and Fike.
“Macie has really done well for me this year, stepping up and helping lead these younger athletes. I put a lot of pressure on her and probably don't always give her the credit she deserves, but she is the backbone to our team,” the coach said. “She is a great player that we are sure going to miss and everyone feeds off her. I also thought Haley stepped up on the offensive side of the floor knocking down some shots that we needed to take some pressure off of my guards.
“Kayleigh has become more aggressive and has stepped up the last couple of games on the offensive side of the floor. She is learning to play tough and more confident, which is leading to success,” the coach added. “She did a nice job for us tonight attacking the basket and finishing.”
Now, it is simply a matter of putting it together for all four quarters for this young team, which features half of a lineup that consists of freshmen and sophomores. Agee said each game has been a learning curve, but experience is the best teacher and the one thing that matters most is work ethic.
I tell them that they can play wit any team in this conference if we just become fundamentally sound and learn from our mistakes. We may not always be the most athletic or have the greatest basketball IQ, but we can always work hard,” she remarked. “Hard work will always pay off, and it may not be this year, but hopefully these young kids can look back in a few years, see where they started, and through their hard work and dedication they see success.”
And while some of the focus may be on the future, Thursday night was also a night to recognize the present. It was Senior Night at Eldon and Agee said both Halderman and Grace Baucom have certainly contributed their fair share to the program.
Halderman, who previously reached 1,500 career points earlier this season, will leave the Mustangs as the team’s second all-time leading scorer only behind 2015 graduate Sara Rhine.
“She has always been a fun kid to coach and has bought into our program since I have been here. I am just lucky enough to have gotten to coach a kid like her who has so much talent, the dedication to work and the grit to become what it takes to be an elite athlete,” Agee stated.
As for Baucom, Agee said her personality was infectious and that the senior turned into a great leader that she is confident will continue to be the case.
“Her positive attitude on and off the court along with her hard work is contagious. She makes everyone she comes into contact with a better person,” she said. “She always comes ready to work and that is the kind of kid you want setting examples for future Lady Mustangs.
“Together, they (Halderman and Baucom) make a perfect duo and honestly there are not words out there for the love and respect I have for both of these young ladies. We just want to thank them for always being dedicated an setting a solid foundation for the players to come.”
Eldon (7-17, 2-5 Tri-County Conference) will wrap up the regular season at Battle Monday night at 6 p.m. With the district tournament just around the corner, Agee said it is simply time to clean up the mistakes and take care of the fundamentals.
“This will be a very winnable game for us and we have to show up, play together and give 110 percent all the time. That is what it is going to take to beat any team in districts,” the coach pointed out. “We have to put our nose down and continue to work. They know they can play at a high level, but we have to be consistent and work hard every second of every game.”
Osage (19-6, 5-2 Tri-County Conference) is done with the regular season, but seeding for the district tournament, which starts February 24, has not yet been drawn up. Rowland said the win against Eldon will not be taken lightly, noting how much they improved, and that it can be beneficial for a tournament where nothing can be taken for granted.
“I hope those two games (losses to California and Skyline) helped us because those are as good as teams as we are going to see,” he said. “I mean, a district championship that you are striving for- you are going to see a great team there- but this is what we needed at the end of the year kind of getting us ready.”