For the second straight year School of the Osage is going back to the Elite 8.
Although, this time around it was a little more nerve-wracking. The Indians trailed by as many as nine points at the start of the second half in Tuesday night’s Class 4 sectional battle with Nevada (18-9) in Sedalia, but stayed the course, methodically erased that deficit and held on in a 48-45 comeback win over the Tigers.
“I knew, down nine, yeah we’ve been there before. I knew nine times out of 10 we could get out of that so I just had a lot of confidence in us,” said Osage junior forward Kerrigan Gamm who was not ready to call it quits on the season. Turns out, that confidence was not misplaced.
There was not much separation between the two sides with the score tied at 15 at the end of the first quarter, but a 15-4 run fueled by a string of 3-pointers helped Nevada secure a 30-23 advantage by halftime. However, that narrative soon changed.
“I knew we were not making the smartest decisions and in any other game we would not make those so it was just nerves and rebounding,” Osage junior point guard Carson Wood said of the first half woes. “In the locker room I said, ‘Be positive, rebound, limit the mistakes and we’ll be fine. It is our game.’”
And it certainly seems that message struck a chord. After Nevada scored the first bucket of the third quarter to go back up by nine, the Indians scored nine straight unanswered points to tie it and trailed by just five points heading into the final frame. The momentum stayed with Osage as the Indians tied it right back up again and regained their first lead since the second quarter in the middle of a 14-2 run to go up by seven with just over three minutes remaining.
Up until the final two minutes of the contest, Osage had given up just nine points in the entire second half.
“I did not realize we had only given up nine points. That is flat out amazing,” Osage coach Scott Rowland said of his team’s defensive efforts. “I was talking with (Nevada) Coach (Brent) Bartlett before the game and he seems like a great guy and has been there 20 years so he knows how to get shots. Our girls just played really good, solid defense and did not give up very many second shots.
“I thought the one thing is that the girls showed a lot of resiliency. They made their shots difficult and very rarely did we not do what we talked about scheme-wise to get out on 3-pointers.”
And while Osage was forcing tough long-range shots on defense, it found a way to get easy buckets on the other end of the floor as the Indians managed to break down Nevada’s man-to-man or 2-3 zone defense with shots inside or around the paint. Some points came via the fast break in transition, but very rarely did Osage opt to take a shot beyond 15 feet.
“In the 2-3 we have to look for our diagonal (passes) and open holes that we find where as in man we know we can easily beat the person,” Gamm said of the offensive strategy.
Gamm led the Indians with 18 points while Wood added 17 and senior forward Kenzi King recorded eight. Senior guard Rose Colonius put up two points before exiting the game with a knee injury and junior guard Payton Good finished with three big points to help the Indians tie the game and later preserve the lead at the end.
“Payton would tell you she did not have a very good game, but then how big was that bucket when she faked, drove to the baseline against a 5-foot-11 or 6-foot girl, took it up and finished?” Rowland said of the 5-foot-8 guard’s tying basket. “Then we were like, ‘Hey, alright now we are going.’ To get a bucket like that and Rose not being able to play the second half, those two (Gamm and Wood) stepping up and carrying the scoring load was huge.”
It is not yet clear if Colonius will be ready for the next game, but another key offensive factor was patience.
“Whenever they went zone, we hoped what we could do is get the ball reversed a bunch and maybe make them extend it (defense) more. They want to run and go and we hoped that maybe it would get them a little bit flat if we could make them play defense for a minute and then get a good shot,” Rowland noted.
“It seemed to work out, or kind of at least,” he added with a smile.
But the work was not done yet.
Nevada stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer from Calli Beshore and then an Osage turnover on the ensuing play was followed up by another 3-point play where Nevada’s Teagan Charles sunk a free throw after getting fouled on a layup to make it 46-45 with 1:16 left to go.
Solid defense and a couple of free throws carried Osage home. Wood and Good made just one of their two shots each at the charity stripe- where Osage finished 65 percent as a team- to put the Indians up 48-45 and the Tigers could not find an answer with their final two shots. On the final possession with 5.3 seconds left, Nevada chucked up a prayer just past half court and it came up short of the rim.
“We wanted to slow them down, make them catch it in front of us and wanted to make sure we did not foul,” Wood said of the final moments. “We were just hoping to play good defense, have trust in us and be confident.”
Rowland, who smiled and let out a sigh of relief after the game, was glad to see his club play smart in crunch time down the stretch.
“Payton is our best free throw shooter percentage wise so she made that first one to make it pretty tough. It was going to take a miracle or us fouling them to lose,” the coach pointed out. “We talked about trying to make it a difficult shot... and I thought they did a great job of executing end of game situations.”
And now, the program that has been to four straight district championship games and won three district titles will get its second straight shot at securing a spot in the Final 4 for the first time in school history. It is certainly not a bad resume to have, but Rowland said the credit belongs to his players.
As I told them, it kind of feels like I am just along for the ride. They are such good kids, they work so hard and are good basketball players, which is why we are here,” he remarked. “It seems surreal that I am standing here as the coach of Osage.
“Yeah, we are one game from the Final Four and nothing against them, but almost against me,” he added with a smile. “I cannot believe it and to do it two years in a row is absolutely a testament to how hard those kids work and who they are as basketball players and people.”
However, Gamm would not mind her coach earning a little praise.
“I think Coach Rowland is a major part of it. He gets along great with us and all is good when we are coached by him,” the junior stated.
As fate would have it, Osage (22-6) will face a familiar foe in Carl Junction (24-3) who ended Osage’s run a season ago in the quarterfinals with a 36-26 win. But for Wood, that is exactly the team she was hoping to be matched up with.
“It is so exciting and I am so pumped. We have a different team this year and I feel like if we play our game and be confident in ourselves we’ll do great,” she said. “I personally want to play them again because I want the revenge. They lost a huge player and we are a different team than last year so I’m hoping we can use that to our advantage and hopefully get that win.”
For Gamm, the entire season has been about playing with a chip on her shoulder and she said the next contest will not be any different.
“I think a lot of people had doubt in us after losing big time players in Jordyn (Bartlett) and Kendal (Miller) and did not think we had what it took,” the junior noted. “I think that is a really big motivation for us to keep proving everyone wrong and keep pushing to get further than we did last year.”
Saturday’s Class 4 quarterfinal game will take place at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar at 1 p.m.