WaKEENEY, Kan. - Otis-Bison, anchored by senior forwards Maddie Wiltse and Cora Anderson, plays at a methodical pace and averages 49 possessions a contest. Thunder Ridge, with senior point guard Brennan Kirchhoff, enjoys a much faster tempo.
On Friday, the Cougars controlled the fourth quarter and pulled away with a 33-28 victory versus the Longhorns in a Class 1A sub-state semifinal contest at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School. O-B, ranked seventh in the final coaches’ poll, improved to 22-2. The Longhorns, which stood sixth in the rankings, finished at 21-1.
The game was tied at 10 at halftime and 20 after three quarters. In the second, O-B had two possessions which collectively ran off just over two and a half minutes. In the fourth, the Cougars opened with a 37-second possession that yielded a Wiltse basket, the Cougars’ last field goal of the game.
“We just told them, we just want to slow it down and play our game,’” coach Bobby Trapp said. “Because they are used to going up and down the court.”
Then, the Cougars milked from 6:17 to 4:27 off the clock, virtually all with passing around the perimeter. O-B went 11 of 14 on free throws in the fourth. Wiltse battled multiple defenders anytime she touched the ball. She finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The Cougars will face 24-0 Rexford-Golden Plains in sub-state title Saturday. Start time is 6 p.m. from WaKeeney. GP is ranked eighth in 1A.
“Really intense battle all to the end of the game, and we knew it would be,” Wiltse said.
“So all week long we’re just preparing for their intensity, for their 3-pointers, their fast breaks, and we just had to stick to the game plan.”
It marked a rematch of the sub-state semifinals last season. TR won the matchup, 49-40, and eventually earned third place in 1A. Thunder Ridge was 6 of 19 on 3s against O-B last season. On Friday, the Longhorns shot 7 of 36 (17 percent) from the field, and 1 of 16 on 3s.
“The biggest difference was how they slowed our tempo down,” TR coach Darren Grauerholz said. “And it just made our offense so stagnant, and we had that one other time this year where a team slowed it down, and then finally we got our tempo going to where we was able to pull out. And tonight, we just couldn’t do it. We missed some key shots that would have got us through those little lulls in the game. But defensively, we did exactly what we needed to do.”
This winter, the Cougars returned its three senior starters with Wiltse, Anderson and point guard Cristen Trapp. Notably, Anderson was sick in the Longhorn matchup last winter. Coach Trapp said ’19-20 marked the first time O-B entered sub-state healthy in his five-year tenure.
Additionally, Trapp believed O-B’s challenging schedule helped Friday. The Cougars’ lone losses came against Central Plains, which is on the state’s all-time longest winning streak. The Central Prairie League also includes St. John (15-9), which will play for a sub-state final Saturday.
“St. John plays us really, really physical,” coach Trapp said. “And Kinsley plays us really, really physical. La Crosse is extremely physical. … Our league being so tough and so dominant, that it really helps us out seeing all those teams like that.”
MaxPreps ranks O-B’s schedule at -2.0, and TR at -7.5, a significant difference. TR won every game by at least 15 points. The Longhorns’ previous season low for offense was 45 points.
“I always told the girls, I said, ‘Offensively, I think we’re a better team than what we were a year ago,” Grauerholz said. “But defensively, we were one to two steps slower, and I think that was a big difference.”
The 6-foot-2 Wiltse, a Nebraska-Kearney signee, entered the game with 16.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. She went over 1,500 career points Friday. Wiltse also delivered 24 points and 10 rebounds versus TR last winter. This year, Trapp and Anderson combined for five points, all from the foul line.
“Like my dad (Kevin) tells me, we’ve got to do whatever we have got to do to get the win,’” Wiltse said. “So you have got to step out there, and all three of us seniors knew that we needed to go out there with senior leadership.”
Overall, Otis-Bison shot 15 of 27 from the foul line. Thunder Ridge was 13 of 24. Anderson, a Barton basketball signee, had three fouls 30 seconds into the second quarter and fouled out. Trapp also fouled out. Senior Jaden Boden, who will play volleyball at Barton, fouled out for TR. Grauerholz believed if the Longhorns held the Cougars to 30 points, they would win.
“There were so many calls,” Grauerholz said. “And I usually don’t say anything, but I was very disappointed in the way they called this game tonight. And I know it’s probably a little bit on my perspective, but it was a disappointment. There was a lot of missed calls, and things like this that really went their way. I am going to take a lot of blame, because I just didn’t have a good offensive answer to get us out of that stagnant flow.”
The 5-4 Kirchhoff led TR with 10 points, along with seven rebounds and five steals. She cleared 1,000 career points in the defeat.
“Her work ethic is just unbelievable,” Grauerholz said. “Somebody has got to get her picked up (for college basketball), because she’s a 5-8 player in that body. I mean, she just does tremendous things, and she’s so smart.”
Otis-Bison led 6-5 after the first quarter as coach Trapp noticed a little tightness. Thunder Ridge led 9-7 before O-B used more than 90 seconds off before Anderson found junior Lauren Maier off a great skip pass.
Maier was fouled and made the free throw for a 10-9 lead with 1:53 remaining before halftime.
“I just told them, ‘Hey, just hold the basketball,’” Trapp said. “We will go into our game plan. It just helps us out even more holding the basketball, keeping it to that low score. They have never had a game where they went in 10 points at half.
“So it makes a huge difference when you are used to just running up and down the court,” he added. “Those 3s come a lot easier. All of a sudden when it’s a tie ball game, it’s a lot harder to hit those 3s.”
Otis-Bison never trailed again. Coach Trapp said the Cougars “did a lot better” of running sets, passing and finishing down the stretch. Wiltse scored all 10 of her team’s third-quarter points, including three baskets off offensive rebounds. Twice she scored and drew a foul.
“That was definitely huge, because part of our game plan was to slow it down, so that way we could run our pace, and set up our offenses, so we needed to not panic,” Wiltse said. “And Coach told us that before the game, if they get a little lead, don’t panic, just keep working it, just keep trusting the game plan, and that will happen.”