Indians' season ends in Sweet 16

School of the Osage found putting the ball through the hoop a difficult task Tuesday night.

The Indians (23-4) met Rolla (24-3) in a battle of state-ranked teams in Class 4 sectionals on the campus of Missouri S&T and the pressure of the hometown Bulldogs proved to be too much to overcome in a 42-33 defeat that ended the season for the three-time defending district champions.

“Rolla did a great job tonight. Their pressure was just something I did not do a good enough job preparing us for and we just could not handle them,” said Osage coach Scott Rowland whose team coughed up 25 turnovers on the night against the Bulldogs’ full-court zone and man-to-man defense. “We turned the ball over way too many times and had way too many empty possessions where we did not get into a set or something like that. I’ve just got to do a better job of trying to get them ready for what they are going to see.”

Well, it may not necessarily be easy to prepare for a fourth-ranked Class 4 team that features five players 5-foot-11 or taller including one who is 6-foot-3. By comparison, fifth-ranked Osage features just one player at 5-foot-10 and Rolla’s tough combination of size and aggressive guard play wore down on the Indians as they could not quite find their groove and trailed the entire night.

A four-minute scoring drought in the first quarter and one that lasted over five minutes in the second resulted in one of the hardest halves Osage has played in recent memory. The Indians had 11 total points and 13 turnovers in 16 minutes of play, but the damage was not too extensive as the team only trailed by single digits going into the break. Holding a 12-11 advantage with about five minutes to play, Rolla went on a 7-0 run to close out the half with a 19-11 lead.

“When we are turning it over doing stuff we don’t normally do, it is kind of tough to catch it before it can happen,” Rowland said of the adjustments his club tried to make in an uncharacteristic game for the team. “I felt like we had a fairly good game plan going in and some of the places and the ways we were turning it over just were not things I foresaw and that made it a little bit difficult.

“At times it got better, but even in the second half I felt like we still turned it over quite a bit.”

It also did not help matters that Osage’s all-time leading scorer practically spent the entire second quarter on the bench with foul trouble. Senior Kerrigan Gamm picked up two fouls in the first quarter and Rowland said one of those fouls may have incorrectly been attributed to her.

“We tried to talk to them about it and I guess it is on me to try and catch it, but we did not think it was on her,” the coach said of one of the fouls. “All of a sudden it was and after two or three minutes of gameplay, you cannot go back and you have no idea. That really hurt us.

“That said- as good as she is- we needed to make sure she could play in the second half. If she gets her third (foul), I think that totally affects how she is able to play. To the girls’ credit, we did not have her for the second quarter basically and we were down eight. Eight points is manageable.”

Unfortunately for Osage, many of the woes and miscues continued as the team was held scoreless until the 3:40 mark of the third quarter, ending a scoreless stretch that lasted for about nine minutes of gameplay. Rolla pushed its run to 11 unanswered points to push the lead to 12 and led by as many as 13 in the final frame before the Indians cut the gap back to six points. But by that time, there was just a minute remaining in the game and the Bulldogs managed to make enough free throws down the stretch to deflate the comeback effort.

Gamm scored all 10 of her points in the second half and fellow senior Payton Good scored eight of her 10 points in the second half to lead the Indians. Senior Carson Wood added seven points of her own and sophomore Sara Wolf added six.

“They kept fighting until the end and I would have loved to have started pressing sooner,” said Rowland who enacted a full-court press in the fourth quarter. “It is a little bit tougher on the big college floor, I thought they were a little winded and when you press and gamble you are going to foul. Well, we were already in quite a bit of foul trouble.

“It was a calculated gamble and it kind of paid off and kind of didn’t. It just did not work out, but still a great effort to come back that far against that good of a team.”

The last time Osage played at Missouri S&T was nearly four years ago after the Indians had won their first district championship in school history and faced St. Francis Borgia in the Sweet 16. Osage did not win that game, but it started a run of postseason success that will not be forgotten any time soon.

“I like what they’ve done with the new gym and it looks nice. I’m not sure I like coming here to play because we seem to have a little bit of trouble in this gym,” Rowland said jokingly. “It is just one of those things. If we would have gotten beat 48-0 I would rather play in this game than lose a district championship because you just always want to try and keep moving forward and this group has been great about that.”

That is why it will be especially hard to say goodbye to a senior class that has been a large part of the program’s success which features four district titles in the past five years and back-to-back runs to the state quarterfinals. That group also featured two of the program’s top three scorers in Gamm and Wood who both surpassed 1,000 career points as well as Good who made All-Conference while Rowland also commended the efforts of Zoie Turner and Karli Kempf.

“I think those seniors finished maybe 87-23. It is just incredible and nothing I ever thought would happen,” the coach stated. “Not because of them, but because of me. I just never dreamed I would get to coach that talented of a group.

“We are going to miss them and you cannot replace kids like that, they are just too good. But we’ll try and reload a little bit.”

Rowland said it starts with Wolf and sophomore Liberty Gamm and some time will be spent over the summer looking at personnel, including the incoming freshman class, and figuring out what works.

“We’ll be a different team, but I think it will be a competitive group that will play hard,” he said. “Then, we’ll just try to piece it together and figure out what style fits them the best and go from there.”