Turns out Fort Osage has won a basketball tournament at William Jewell College before, as an Indian alum pointed out to coach Josh Wilson the other day.
“At the old Brown Gymnasium, in 1962, they won this,” Wilson said. “Fifty-six years ago they won it and we were able to come back and do it.”
That, of course, was well before 1980, when the current version of the William Jewell Holiday Classic began at the Mabee Center. So when the current Fort Osage team gutted out a 51-47 victory over Grandview Saturday night in the Nelson Division final, it could still lay claim to a first for the program.
In 11 appearances over the 39 years of this Holiday Classic, Fort Osage had never captured one of the tourney’s three division titles. And that the Indians could claim one by outrebounding and outhustling defending Class 4 state champion Grandview made it all the more remarkable.
Fort Osage (8-2) outrebounded a tall and physical Grandview team 40-23 and created several baskets off of offensive boards. Three Indians – Xavier Kahube, Triston Turner and Ty Baker – had seven rebounds each.
And after holding Raymore-Peculiar to 32-percent shooting from the field the night before, Fort Osage used a well-executed zone defense to limit Grandview (9-2) to 16-for-51 (31 percent) from the field and hold the Bulldogs to four points in the fourth quarter.
“That’s one of the things we wrote as a key to the game – outrebound them,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the things we try to focus on. We’ve got size. We got their big guys boxed out, and we were snatching rebounds.”
Baker, named the Nelson Division Most Valuable Player after averaging 15.3 points over three tournament games, had the biggest rebound of the night with the Indians clinging to a 49-47 lead late in the fourth quarter.
After the Indians threw the ball away with 52 seconds left, Grandview’s Deandre Sorrells launched a three that went off the rim. Baker grabbed the rebound, and shortly afterward hit two free throws with 13 seconds left to seal the victory.
“Knowing the opportunity that we had tonight, we really wanted to take advantage of it,” said Baker, who led the Indians with 15 points. “We knew we had a chance if we could just defend, and we pretty much proved to Kansas City that we’re a good defensive team.”
Grandview made four three-pointers against Fort Osage’s zone in the first quarter for a 15-11 lead. Sorrells, who led the Bulldogs with 14 points, hit a three midway through the second quarter for a 24-17 lead.
That was Grandview’s biggest lead, and the Bulldogs struggled to find any offensive rhythm while the Indians found success driving the lane and crashing the boards. Fort Osage closed the quarter with a 7-0 run that started with a slam dunk by Kahube and ended with a three from Turner for a 26-26 halftime tie.
Grandview led 43-42 after a back and forth third quarter, but a putback by Turner in the first minute of the fourth quarter put the Indians ahead for good. A drive and a tip-in by Baker and a three from swingman Jared Larson extended the lead to 49-45 before the Bulldogs scored their second and final basket of the quarter.
Grandview made just 2 of 15 shots in the final period.
“Not to take anything from Fort Osage, but our guys were fatigued,” Grandview coach Reggie Morris said. “Personally, their want-to was bigger than ours.”
Fort Osage now wants to continue what has been a remarkable turnaround season. The Indians won only six games last season and haven’t had a winning record since 2014.
And now they have a trophy to prove how far they have come.
“This team has been through a lot of adversity the past three years,” Baker said. “It’s really good to get these coaches a win and this community and Fort Osage High School.”