For the second straight year, the Indians went up against Carl Junction (25-3) in the Class 4 quarterfinals at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar and the Bulldogs’ size and smothering defense once again proved to be a little too much to handle.
The task ahead of School of the Osage on Saturday was a difficult one.
For the second straight year, the Indians went up against Carl Junction (25-3) in the Class 4 quarterfinals at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar and the Bulldogs’ size and smothering defense once again proved to be a little too much to handle in a 55-41 loss that prevented the program’s first trip to the Final Four.
A major reason for that difficulty was finding a way to contend with a pair of 6-foot-2 twin towers in Carl Junction senior Megan Scott and sophomore Kaitlin Scott who rose above Osage’s tallest players at 5-foot-9. But while the Scotts certainly made an impact on the outcome of the game as one went on to lead all scorers with 29 points and the other finished with eight, they were not the only obstacles standing in the way as sophomore Taylor Hughes knocked down 15 points of her own.
“Credit to them, they are great players,” Osage coach Scott Rowland said of the Scott sisters. “Truthfully, what I thought killed us was their other players. Now, the Scott girls were a huge part of it, but they did a good job of finding other people and I did not adjust us well enough to get us onto the other players.
“I think we were so worried about them that I did not do a good enough job of getting them to understand that, yeah they could hurt you, but the other players are not just walking around unable to shoot or do anything. They hurt us on some nice drives and some nice passes cutting to the basket and things like that.”
After Carl Junction ended Osage’s season a year ago with a 36-26 win on the same floor, this year it looked like the narrative could change. Osage’s 2-2-1 full court zone press gave Carl Junction some issues early on as the Bulldogs coughed up six turnovers in each of the first two quarters and the Indians capitalized to build their largest lead of the night at 11-6 near the end of the first.
Osage juniors Carson Wood and Kerrigan Gamm, who have led the way offensively for the Indians throughout most of the season and especially the postseason, found their rhythm at the start and went on to lead the team with nine points each at the end of the first half. However, Carl Junction found a way to settle down and the two sides went into the halftime break tied at 23.
“No. 33 (Kaitlin Scott) will turn it over a little bit but she does not turn it over very often. The others we felt like we could pressure and I thought we bothered her some, but she is just big enough she could see over the top and I think we got caught flat-footed,” Rowland said of his team’s defensive pressure. “We just did a little too much ‘Scott-watching’ and so we would see what she was doing and she planted and would go past us.
“We were just not moving well enough, but that goes back to me and the game plan we tried. It was just not quite right.”
Unfortunately, things did not improve very much for Osage either. The Bulldogs pulled ahead for good after the two teams were tied at 25 early in the third, thanks to an 11-3 run that put them ahead 36-29 going into the fourth. The lead grew to as many as nine at the start of the fourth and Osage managed to cut the deficit down to six at the midway point, but the mountain to climb was just a little too steep as Carl Junction soon went back up by 10 and extended the advantage.
A tough shooting night combined with nine of the team’s 17 total turnovers in the second half made the challenge even more difficult. Osage was also plagued with foul trouble as both Wood and Gamm picked up their fourth fouls with over four minutes left to play and Carl Junction did not disappoint at the free throw line, making 13 of 18 attempts for a solid 72 percent.
Meanwhile, Osage’s shooting percentages were not quite as satisfactory. The Indians finished 10 of 19 from the charity stripe (53 percent) and went 3-for-13 behind the 3-point line (23 percent.)
“They (Carl Junction) were just able to extend it at the end and knocking down free throws really hurt us,” Rowland pointed out. “You shoot 50 percent in a quarterfinal game from the free throw line, that is going to be tough. If you shoot three for 13 from the 3-point line, that also will make it a little bit difficult.”
Of course, the Bulldog defense may have had something to do with that. Carl Junction gives up an average of just 32 points a game and have only given up 50 or more just three times all season. Osage may have drawn some contact on a few shots, but Rowland was quick to point out that officiating had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.
“Against a team like that that is going to give up 32, getting 41 you feel like you have a little bit of a chance… Sometimes it does not go in and we were trying to shoot over that kind of size,” the coach said of the offensive woes. “I felt like sometimes we were getting bumped a little bit and we were not able to finish with that contact. That probably goes back to working on that more in practice, taking and absorbing contact with the blocking pad just so we are a little bit stronger. That is something we can work on as we head forward.”
Wood led the Indians with 20 points, Gamm finished with 12, senior Kenzi King added six and Sara Wolf contributed three respectively. Wood added 11 of those 20 in the second half to try and put the Indians back in it.
“She (Wood) can worm her way in there and stuff, but at the end of the day I put her down as 5-foot-9 and I think that is probably pretty optimistic. I think she is around 5-foot-7 so her getting in there and going against a 6-foot-2 girl after you have already had to go around two other girls is pretty tough,” Rowland noted. “I was hoping we could get her driving and dishing, but they (Carl Junction) are so long it made it tough for her to see anything except the shot.
“She scored a lot of points and finished a lot, but it makes it tough when it is kind of just one person that is able to get the good looks.”
Gamm also tried to keep things going in the second half and get good looks at the basket, but found herself in the middle of tough battles inside the paint.
“That just shows you how strong the Scott girls are because Kerrigan is about as strong a kid you are going to see and tough-minded. She was getting bumped off and was not able to finish and that is saying something because is strong,” Rowland stated. “They (Carl Junction) can play defense. They have quick hands… and it is tough when every pass you throw is getting tipped. It gets frustrating.”
Osage ends the season at 22-7 and as frustrating as it may be to not get over the proverbial hump and secure a spot the program’s first Final Four, Rowland said that what was accomplished this year is no small feat.
“I talked with Coach Brad Shorter who is a good guy and a great coach. Obviously, they have gone to back-to-back Final Fours and he goes, ‘Well, here we are again. We just need to make an arrangement to meet here and I’d be alright with it,’” Rowland said with a smile.
“It is so much fun and the first thing I said to them (after the game) was the idea that only two coaches get to end their year with a happy locker room. For us to make it this far, I would sure rather be having this talk at SBU than losing in the first round of districts to Salem… I never dreamed I would be a coach that got to coach a team that could make it to the quarterfinals and they proved me wrong and got me here.”
This chapter has concluded, but he efforts and contributions of seniors Rose Colonius, Madison Henley and King will not be forgotten.
“It is a great group of three and academically they are off the charts,” Rowland added. “All three of them are going to play college volleyball.”
And with only three players graduating from this year’s squad, it may certainly be feasible for Osage to get back to this game next season. Nothing is guaranteed, but it will not be too long before the Indians are back in the gym as veterans return, new faces arrive and another journey begins.
“I think they have lofty goals and it is a good group. You never know what the season brings, but I do like our team headed forward,” Rowland noted. “It is going to be tough for us to get back, but with this group I think they felt like nobody really expected them to do it this year because we lost a lot (of players). I think they took it upon themselves to really up their game, try and get back to this as a goal and I’m not going to be surprised if this is something they aspire to next year.”