The Fort Osage boys basketball team has had a tight grip on their district for the past two years, and it wasn't about to loosen it up Friday.
Logan Haugmo made a tip in after a miss to put the Indians ahead 44-34. Just 1 minute and 30 seconds later, the senior chest-bumped teammate Mathias Solberg, and was the first to get his hands on the Class 4 District 14 championship trophy following a 49-43 win over Kearney.
“That (Haugmo's tip-in) was huge,” Indians senior Brian Starr said with a wide smile after scoring a game-high 15. “That was real big.”
“I just wanted to keep my head in the game and get back in it for my teammates,” Haugmo said, who sat most of the first half with two fouls. “I just didn't quit. I just kept fighting and got the tip.”
Fort Osage continued it stranglehold by capturing it third district title in a row.
Haugmo's tip in seemed to put the dagger in the hopes of a Bulldog comeback. Kearney managed to cut the deficit to four with Pierce Mohling's 3-pointer with 13.6 seconds left. But the Indians kept the opposition a bay, nailing 18 out of 19 free throws for the game amidst a rowdy home crowd at Kearney High School.
“Coach has us shoot a lot of free throws in practice,” junior guard Will Penamon said. “That helps out a little bit. We just talk to each other and play through each other.”
If winning a third straight district championship wasn't impressive enough, Fort Osage did it against a team with two post players 6-foot-7 or taller – Dray Starzl and Tanner Owen – holding the duo to just 19 points between them.
“It was tough to guard someone who can just go over you and shoot right at the goal,” Haugmo said of Starzl. “I wanted to be physical and just get a hand in his face.”
On offense, the undersized Indians were fearless in attacking the basket. Nine out of their 13 field goals came in the paint.
“It doesn't matter if we face 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 guys, we can play with anyone,” Fort Osage coach Josh Wilson said. “We had to make it a 90-feet game instead of 50 feet and beat them down the court. We change our game plan from passing the ball around the perimeter to attacking them off the dribble and kicking it out for the open 3 when it was there.”
Playing teams of similar size to Kearney like Raytown twice during the regular season helped too, Wilson said.
“We talked about that before the game,” the coach said. “These are the game we have to win to get to the next level. We beat Raytown at our place, and most teams we play will be bigger than us. Before the game I said, 'Look. If we don't play like we can, bigger teams are going to destroy us.'”
The Indians didn't start out attacking the basket though. Sophomore Skylar Thompson and Starr hit 3-pointers, but Fort still trailed 10-8 at the end of one quarter.
In the second period, the Indians attacked the basket any chance they got. Starr had two driving layups and Penamon added one of his own, as they took a 17-14 advantage at halftime.
Every time Kearney tried to get back in it in the third, Fort Osage had an answer. The biggest one came at the 1:17 mark then Thompson buried a 3 from the left wing to put his team up 33-24.
Thompson hit his third 3-pointer of the game early in the fourth to push the Indians ahead by 11. Kearney cut it to six on two occasions, but after the last time, Haugmo made a lay-in off Starr's driving dish and followed that up with the big tip in a possession later.
Thompson finished with 12 points and Penamon had eight to help spark the Indians.
Fort Osage will ride a wave of momentum, coming off its 15th win in its last 16 games, when it takes on Lee's Summit at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Class 5 sectionals at the Independence Events Center. The Tigers upset the sixth-ranked Jaguars 78-74 in the District 13 championship game.
For now, the Indians will celebrate. Starr admitted this championship tasted a little sweeter with many doubting they could put together a 19-6 season like they have so far after losing several standouts to graduation after last year’s state quarterfinal run.
“Everyone doubted us,” Starr said. “No one thought we could pull this off. This win just makes it all that more special.”
“That's been our fuel,” Wilson admitted. “No one thought we were going to be the same team we were last year. We put a lot of doubts to rest.”