Otis-Bison girls have faced several obstacles this year. First, the Cougars decided to focus on volleyball and very rarely played basketball together in the summer. After the volleyball squad reached the state tournament, virtually the same group of players has battled sickness throughout basketball.
Standout junior forward Maddie Wiltse has missed two games with illness and wasn’t at full strength Thursday versus St. John. Junior point guard Cristen Trapp isn’t 100 percent. Several Cougars have never played basketball before.
Still, O-B’s height and experience carried the Cougars to a milestone 36-26 home Central Prairie League victory versus the Tigers. Otis-Bison, unranked in Class 1A, completed the pre-holiday schedule at 7-0.
Since 2008, St. John had won nine straight in the series, including a 36-35 victory last winter. Coach Bobby Trapp said Otis-Bison has shown “hustle and the willingness more” this winter.
“Every year, I have tried to introduce a little bit, little bit, little bit, and this year, I have kind of dumped a lot more on them,” Trapp said. “And they have picked it up, and so it’s kind of sinking in that they are picking up stuff, instead of just like a puzzled look.”
St. John fell to 2-6, although has played a highly difficult schedule with close defeats to undefeated Central Plains and O-B, ranked Spearville and 3A Hesston.
The Tigers’ only player above 5-9 is freshman 5-10 Kaylynn Claussen. She started but was in foul trouble and eventually fouled out. St. John has battled injuries this winter.
While Wiltse, Trapp and junior post Cora Anderson have been significant players since their freshman year, St. John has just three seniors and had three freshmen play often. Freshman Darby Smith led the Tigers with eight points.
“They are a good team, and they have got some good inside players, and they hit some shots when they needed to, and made a lot of free throws when they need to, and we did not,” St. John coach Danny Smith said.
The 6-foot Anderson has delivered multiple 20-point games this year and finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Wiltse, who is 6-1, had seven points and nine rebounds. Otis-Bison finished plus-17 on the glass.
“She’s nothing like she normally is,” coach Trapp said of Wiltse.
The game had a grinding pace in the first three quarters, and O-B led 20-11 entering the fourth. Overall, St. John finished 9 of 38 (24 percent) from the field against the Cougars’ 3-2 zone and struggled against Wiltse and Anderson inside.
“You can’t drive in there like you do against most other teams,” Smith said. “Yes, that’s a big factor for them.”
Otis-Bison was 12 of (38 percent). Trapp focused on taking away St. John’s driving and was content with giving up 3s.
“We have been really teaching drop step, get in front of them, go to the ball hand,” Trapp said of the defense.
Trapp called the low score a “complete shock” and wanted the game “in the 40s and 50s,” point totals the Cougars have reached throughout the season with a quicker pace.
“This is completely a shock to me,” Trapp said.
However, with the sickness, Trapp told assistant coach Stan Ewy that he wanted to slow the pace and make the contest a possession-type game because of Otis-Bison’s health.
O-B never trailed after 2-1 and led 8-6 after the first quarter and 13-8 at halftime. In the first quarter, senior Sheridan Ewy, an improved player from last winter, hit a key 3.
In the fourth quarter, St. John forced turnovers on three straight possessions and converted the plays into three points. SJ has lost six in a row, including 39-37 to Kinsley on Tuesday.
“We need to keep it low scoring, because we struggle to score,” Smith said. “And we have just not been hitting shots, and I think we are really physically tired. We have had two hard games, lost by two Tuesday.”
With 4:15 left, junior Erin Crissman sunk a trey to close the margin to 22-19.
“I knew that we weren’t going to have a lot of energy,” Smith said. “And gave it everything we had, but it affects your shooting when you are tired.”
However, Anderson made back-to-back shots, the second off a great Wiltse assist when she was falling out of bounds and threw a one-handed pass to her teammate at the foul line.
O-B, which finished 10-18 from the foul line, had great free throw shooting down the stretch from Cristen Trapp. In the final seconds, Sheridan Ewy, with a big smile, started to jump up and down and clap to celebrate the victory – and end of the long losing skid against the Tigers.
“Big, one of those deals, I haven’t been able to do that yet,” coach Trapp said of ending the streak.