Osage had no choice but to put up a fight Tuesday night in Rolla.
The Indians met Helias Catholic in the Class 4 District 11 semifinals and a slow start put Osage down by 20 at halftime. Instead of folding the cards on the season, Osage sought a comeback bid but it did not come to fruition in a 66-50 loss to the Crusaders.
After Helias put up 26 points in the first quarter, Osage coach Kevin Schnicker told his club to simply keep fighting by playing defense, boxing out and wearing down the opponent. That is exactly what the Indians tried to do and managed to cut a 20-point halftime deficit down to 10 early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we made some good adjustments at halftime, but it was not as much adjustments as saying, ‘We love you guys and want you to keep fighting. We know you can come back, make this game closer and hopefully have a chance to win it.’ Early in the fourth we had opportunities and got stops,” Schnicker recalled. “We just kind of turned it over and were not able to capitalize. Of course, we had to foul and they made free throws.”
But Schnicker was proud of his guys when that final buzzer sounded to signal the end of a season where the Indians finished 13-14 and 4-3 in the Tri-County Conference.
“I can’t be mad at my guys as hard as they fought, as much as they contributed and for making the program and culture here at Osage one to be proud of,” he stated.
“It was not the way we wanted our season to end, but I’m proud of these guys and I would not trade them for anybody. I really care about each and every one of them.”
That fight was never more evident than the example of Osage senior Keyton Knamiller, who had suffered an injury during the contest. Schnicker said the senior has a chance to go on and play collegiately, but he was determined to do everything he could if it was going to be his last game as an Indian.
“He has had a great year for us, done everything we asked and came in during the offseason and worked hard,” the coach noted. “I could not take him off when he said, ‘Don’t take me off.’ I went with him, and maybe he was not 100 percent, but in his last game in that situation I was going to give it to him. He has given me everything I could ask for.”
And in what proved to be the final game of the season, it was a group of seniors who led the charge offensively for the Indians. Drake Gaines led Osage with 18 points, Knamiller chipped in 12 and both Zach Wheeler and Isaac Yoder finished with eight each.
The senior unit was the first group to play all four years under Schnicker and the coach said their time and efforts will certainly not be forgotten.
“They mean so much to me. They are the reason why our culture changed and why our program has been more successful the last few years,” he said. “More than that, it is the things they do off the court like thanking the fans, thanking the teachers on ‘Educator Night,’ being good teammates in practice, picking guys up and handing referees the ball. Just the little things we ask them to do, they usually don’t bat an eye and understand the importance of all those things in making them better men.
“I really cannot say enough about Zach Wheeler, Keyton Knamiller, Isaac Yoder, Spencer Zeller, Drake Gaines and Jacob Hermann... I’m glad those guys all kept battling for me.”