Wolf’s late free throws help Osage girls basketball edge rival Eldon
It seems the delay may have certainly been worth the wait.
After last week’s snow postponed a game between School of the Osage and Eldon, the two rivals put together an entertaining finish in a rescheduled game at Osage Middle School Monday night.
With the game tied at 59, Osage senior Sara Wolf collected a rebound off a missed Eldon free throw, drove the length of the court and drew a foul on a layup with 1.7 seconds left. She calmly stepped to the line and sunk both shots from the charity stripe to secure a 61-59 win over the Mustangs.
“I was just trying to go as fast and as hard as I could to beat that clock and hopefully draw some contact. I got the contact and hit those free throws,” Wolf said of the play.
“And, it’s Eldon. I mean, we don’t like to lose to our rivals, so, I did not want to lose and I don’t think anyone else on my team wanted to lose. We came together in the end and pulled through.”
But, the Mustangs still had a chance- even after Wolf’s critical free throws.
After a timeout, Eldon sophomore Haley Henderson received an inbound pass from half court and launched a 3-pointer that would have won the game. It did not miss by much, just clanking off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“I thought we executed it fairly well and it was a decent look for us. To get a shot off at the rim with 1.7 is good and I think we’re growing in that,” Eldon coach Isaiah Rhine said. “I think earlier in the year we probably would not be able to get that look, but we gave ourselves a chance and we’re getting better. Hopefully, more games like that and we’ll get better at those last second shots.”
It certainly had Osage coach Scott Rowland a little nervous as the ball left Henderson’s hands, considering she just previously nailed six 3-pointers on her way to a team-leading 20 points for the Mustangs. He was glad no foul was called, either, also considering the fact that Eldon finished 21-22 as a team from the free throw line.
“I have a feeling they probably would have made those,” Rowland said of the free throws. “I thought it was a really good job by our girls. We have not got to play much lately and to handle the end of the game situation like they did was really good.”
It was certainly the kind of composure a team needs at this stage of the season with the district tournament quickly approaching and Eldon certainly tested the Indians from start to finish.
The Mustangs had the advantage the entire first half, leading by as many as seven points, as they secured a 40-33 lead at the break. The team had eight 3-pointers in the first half from five different players and four of them came from Henderson alone.
“That is something she brings for us. Shooting was not a strength of our team last season and coming in, it was a big focus,” Rhine noted. “We shoot all the time, she puts in the work and it is paying off. I think it is just the start for her, she’s a special player.”
Eldon freshman Sydney Halderman knocked down 13 points for the Mustangs, fellow freshman Jaci Mueller finished with seven and sophomore Haley Shinn put up six points of her own. Eldon shot so well that Osage eventually changed its defense from full-court press and man-to-man to a zone to try and slow the Mustangs down. It certainly helped as Eldon finished with 17 turnovers on the night.
“I was really impressed. I told them if we give up 80 points, I don’t think we have much of a chance,” Rowland said after his team trailed at the half. “We had to hope they would maybe cool off and our defense would help them cool off a little bit.
“The defense in the second half to hold them to 19 was a great job by the girls defensively.”
Eldon came out defensively in a full-court press as well and forced Osage to beat their own zone defense. In the early stages, Osage senior Liberty Gamm helped fuel things inside as she scored the team’s first seven points of the game and 19 of the team’s 33 points in the first half on her way to a 25-point effort to lead all scorers. She had just recently returned to the lineup from an injury.
“I wouldn’t be open at all without them looking for me, setting me up and having my teammates help me,” Gamm said of her opportunities to score
Junior Reese Good also did her part to keep the score close as she finished with five 3-pointers on her way to a 17-point night. She also hit a pair of free throws with 22.4 seconds left that briefly gave her team a lead before Eldon tied the game at 59.
“They are just really solid. We worked and tried to guard as best as we can, but they have three really good offensive options with Wolf, Gamma and Good. Of course, they always have family members,” Rhine said jokingly, referring to 2019 graduates Kerrigan Gamm and Payton Good, the older sisters of Liberty and Reese. “Those three make it tough.
“We just tried to make them work as much as we could for each look they got and really, tonight, I think the biggest difference was Gamm,” Rhine continued. “She’s a tough matchup and is able to play inside in a way that different from most girls you face. She can just slash to the basket and she was a game changer inside tonight.”
Wolf, one of the top five scorers in program history who has surpassed 1,000 career points and also happens to be the best 3-point shooter in program history, was actually held scoreless in the first half and her first points of the night came on a 3-pointer that gave the Indians their first lead of the night with 2:15 left in the third quarter. Wolf finished with 10 points and freshman Lauren Bartlett added six for the Indians.
“For us to be successful, especially against a team as good as Eldon, somebody else has to step up. There are going to be nights when it can’t be Sarah,” Rowland said, noting that there may be times where it is tough for Wolf to get good looks at the basket. “It was a nice team effort just because so many people stepped up when our leading scorer was not able to. Having Liberty back makes such a huge difference.”
Overall, there were six ties and nine lead changes in this contest and Rowland said nothing in practice can emulate the type of atmosphere a close game can produce, especially a close game against a rival whom Rowland described as well-coached. He credits the maturity of the players on his roster for finding a way.
“We have five seniors and two have been playing since they were freshman. The others, a couple of years now,” the coach said. “I think that helps a little bit. Sometimes, the body might not always do it, but they know what they should be doing and it helps them get in the right spot.”
Gamm is one of those seniors who has been playing for four years and she pointed to the ones who came before like her sister, Kerrigan, and fellow 2019 graduate Carson Wood for showing how to take care of those situations.
“A lot of those times we could come against really good teams and be with them the whole game- sometimes down, sometimes-up,” Gamm said. “But, I felt like playing back then with my sister and Carson and how they dealt with those really gave me that, ‘lead by example.’”
As for Eldon, there are just three seniors on the roster and seven of those players are underclassmen. It was not the ending Rhine and company wanted, but the experience gained can pay off in the long run.
“Credit to Osage for knocking down their free throws. These are the kind of games we want to be in,” he stated. “The places we are trying to go with our program, these are the games we want to be in and experiences we want to gain. We’ll learn from it because we have a lot of young girls that even though there were some mistakes down the stretch- very few for as young as we are- we learn from it every time something like that happens because we are going to have more opportunities down the road.”
Eldon (7-13, 1-4 Tri-County Conference) was scheduled to play again Tuesday night hosting Hallsville (15-5) and will wrap up the regular season at Boonville (19-2) on Thursday at 6 p.m. Going forward, Rhine wants his team to continue to believe things are turning around and changing.
“Not as much the wins and losses yet, but you can just feel things are changing in this program,” he said.
“Every day the work they put in is what is changing this program. How we’re getting more together as a group is what is changing things. The energy and effort they bring, we have it most of the time. This year sometimes it is there and sometimes it is not. Finding a way to be more consistent and making that our standard across the program- bring that energy, effort and passion every game.”
Osage (10-10, 2-3 Tri-County Conference) was set to host Boonville Tuesday night and will host Southern Boone in the regular season finale on Friday at 5 p.m. With districts is around the corner, there is a potential chance the top-seeded Indians and second-seeded Mustangs could meet for a fourth time this season in the district championship and the Indians have no plans on taking their rivals lightly should that happen.
“They lost so they are going to be fired up and not going to want to lose. We are going to have to bring extra fire and hopefully we’ll meet them in the district championship a fourth time,” Wolf said. “Really wouldn’t want to play them but hey, it will be another good one and we’ll be back in our gym.”
Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-346-2132