Richland senior Morgan Moss and the Bears kept this day circled on the calendar for quite some time.
Winning the Osage Tournament title has been a goal four years in the making and the Bears crossed that goal off the list Saturday and got the proverbial monkeys off their backs by defeating the host Indians 52-39 in the championship game. It was the first time a team other than the host has won the title in its 5-year history and that feeling of elation was a welcome one for Moss and her teammates.
“We’ve waited four years to win this and it has taken us forever, but we finally have accomplished what we’ve been working for, said Moss who led Richland with 23 points including 19 in the first half. “I mean, Osage is a great team and they have a great program and always do, but it was awesome to get that ‘W’ against them.”
Richland got off to a good start on Saturday and that was key down the stretch as the host Indians did not make things easy. The Bears may have ended up winning by 13, but the score was a lot closer before the clock hit zero.
Moss said the mindset coming into the contest was vital after Thursday’s semifinal win over Dixon.
“We worked in practice all day just getting ready and focused. When we played Dixon, we were not really focused and had a rough game so we knew that we had to get ready because they (Osage) were coming,” the senior recalled.
Richland found its offensive rhythm early by working the ball inside to Moss, who scored 10 of her points in the first quarter alone. However, the Bears also effectively utilized an inside-outside game by finding open shooters on the outside as well.
After both sides exchanged the lead several times in the first few minutes, Richland regained the lead at 6-5 and never gave it up the rest of the way.
“Morgan is a heck of a player who is going to go on and do good things at the collegiate level,” Richland coach Charley Parker said. “When she started doing her thing on the inside, I told my guards, ‘Just give it time because it is going to open up on the outside.’ We hit a couple of 3-pointers there when they started pressuring Morgan and she found a couple of girls on the backside and took advantage of that. When she gets going, it makes us that much better.”
And other Bears knocked down some shots as well. Senior Brittany Latham finished with 12 points while fellow seniors Jaycee Graves and Jessi Whittle knocked down seven each. Moss may have led the way offensively, but she selflessly credited her teammates for her accomplishments- even on a day when she recorded her 1,500th point.
“I would not be anywhere without my team. I mean, they get me to where I am and I have to have have them to do anything,” the senior said. “I greatly appreciate and love each and every one of them and what they do for me. It all comes from them.”
The Bears were able to take a 16-12 first quarter lead and grow it into a 34-19 lead by halftime, but it was not exactly smooth sailing the rest of the way. Osage held Richland to just two points in the third quarter and managed to chop a 15-point deficit down to four at the beginning of the fourth, but the Bears found their groove again and halted any Indian momentum.
“Whittle hit seven 3-pointers in the first game of this tournament and that is something you kind of have to guard. We talked about what to do with Moss and I did not think we did a very good job of that, but I did not adjust quickly enough,” Osage coach Scott Rowland said. “I thought they (Richland) were more aggressive and stronger than us on the glass (rebounding), especially on the offensive glass at the beginning, and that just got us down. The second half was basically an even game, but by then it was too late. They earned it, but when you are down 15 that is tough to come back from.”
Richland hit big shots when needed and finished the night 17-of-18 from the free throw line for an impressive 94 percent. Parker said he knew Rowland would do a good job of making adjustments at the half and noted that he did, but he was proud of his team’s composure to the finish line.
“In the second half we came out and struggled for a little bit only scoring two points in the third quarter, but we finally settled down, hit some big free throws down the stretch and that is what you have to do to do to beat a good team,” Parker pointed out.
“I just told my girls coming into it that Osage works really hard. All those girls do, every one of them,” the coach added. “I told my girls that you have to try to outwork them and can’t lay up at all because if so, they’ll come back and beat you. They cut it close there for a little while and had us worried, but we did a good job of closing it out.”
Rowland would certainly agree and he knew that if his team was trailing in the fourth quarter it could spell trouble.
“We talked about it before the game. If you get down you are digging yourself a hole because they are not going to miss,” Rowland noted. “We adjusted a little bit at halftime and were able to slow them down and make them take tougher shots… But in the fourth quarter they started finishing.
“We did not shoot very well and did not get many second-chance opportunities… We cut it down to four and that is pretty good, but they had too much inside and outside stuff to stop.”
Osage junior Carson Wood led the way offensively for the Indians with 13 points while senior Rose Colonius put up seven points and both senior Kenzi King and freshman Sara Wolf finished with six.
Osage did not get the outcome it would have liked, but if there was a silver lining from Saturday it was the team’s resiliency to fight back when the chips were down.
“You have to give your best effort every night. The thing I was glad of, but not overjoyed by, was the fact that it was 15 (point deficit) at half and it did not end up being a 30-point game,” Rowland said. “We cut it all the way to four and I thought Richland, in the second half especially, did things to win as opposed to (us) just gifting it to them. That is good and something we have to use.
“We have the conference game at Blair Oaks on Monday and we have to make sure we are able to handle it a little bit better.”
Osage (12-3) will take on the Falcons at 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, Richland (12-3) will look to carry the momentum of a 6-game winning streak and tournament championship and turn it into a strong finish to the season. The Bears will get another shot at Osage on Tuesday when they host the Indians at 6 p.m.
“It (championship) means a lot. We started 3-21 and to build it to what we have right now, it means a lot to these seniors,” Parker said. “They wanted to win their last Osage Tournament and it helps us out going into districts. To play in an atmosphere like this, on the road where you have to win a big game like this, it just makes us better down the stretch.”