Oakley, Ness meet for title
Published on -3/1/2013, 10:20 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
PLAINVILLE -- The Oakley High School boys' basketball team had just three losses entering its final two games of the regular season. Then the Plainsmen lost by eight to a 17-win Hoxie team, and by eight to a 14-win Hill City squad. Oakley led by eight in one contest and 10 in the other.
"Didn't play 32 minutes," coach Steve Allison said.
Ness City dropped two of its final three regular season contests against Claflin-Central Plains (52-38) and Victoria (53-35) before it ended the regular season with a 13-point victory against Dighton, ranked seventh in Class 1A Division II. Senior Colin Foss, one of the area's top players, had returned from an ankle injury, but the Eagles had their struggles.
"To me, it looked like he wasn't having any fun," Eagle coach Matt Overlease said. "The whole team looked like they were struggling to have fun."
In sub-state, Ness City eeked out a three-point victory in the first round against Hill City. Oakley returned to form with a 10-point win against Smith Center.
On Thursday night, Oakley and Ness City delivered big wins in the semifinals of the Class 2A sub-state at Plainville. Oakley, helped by a 14-0 run to start the second half, won 70-55. Ness City collected a 50-35 victory against top-seeded Mankato-Rock Hills.
On Saturday, No. 2 seed Oakley (17-5) will face No. 5 seed Ness City (15-7) with a state berth on the line.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Plainville. Ness City has made back-to-back state appearances and lost in the first round both times, while Oakley hasn't made state since 1982. The teams haven't played each other this season.
"I told the boys, you get to Saturday night and anything can happen," Allison said. "That's what it is. Teams that advance are on a roll, and that's what we want to do, is keep that going. We will do the things that we need to do hopefully and prepare a little bit, but with one practice, this is about playing a game. There is a lot of passion in that locker room right now. Just love those kids, and they don't want it to end."
Ness City's success could hinge on Foos, who collected a game-high 21 points, all in the second and third quarters, in Thursday's victory. Then, with no time left in the third quarter, Foos hurt his ankle again and didn't play in the fourth quarter. Foos missed all of football and most of basketball with injuries. He hobbled off the court under his own power and Overlease expected him to play Saturday.
"I don't think it's as bad as it has been," Overlease said.
Rock Hills, led by 18 points and 14 rebounds from 6-foot-3 burly senior forward Wyatt Flinn, led 12-11 after the first quarter. But Foos paced a 16-2 run in the first five minutes of the second quarter. He hit a 3-pointer, scored off a steal from senior Dalton Gantz, made another trey and had a step-back jumper. Ness City, paced by nine seniors, pushed the pace and forced multiple turnovers off the press. Rock Hills, the No. 1 seed, finished 18-3.
"Our plan coming into the game was to get up and down," Overlease said. "We are pretty athletic for the most part, and trying to push the ball. From what I have seen of Rock Hills, they really like to slow the ball down. We were trying to get out and run on them. Struggled a little bit early. Flinn is just a matchup nightmare."
Oakley mainly has received contributions from four players: junior guard Darius Herl, senior forward Stephen Llewellyn, junior forward Austin Baalman and senior forward Cayle Hubert, all of whom average between 13 and 10 points a game. Herl, who leads the team with 13.2 points per game in his first year as point guard, is one of the area's most improved players numbers-wise. He averaged just 3.5 points per contest as a sophomore. Oakley led 30-28 at halftime and opened up a 44-28 lead with 4:55 left in the third quarter.
"I am not totally surprised," Allison said. "As a young player, as a sophomore last year, he showed what he could do, but he is more of a natural (shooting guard). When we lost both of our point guards this year, one didn't go out and one tore his ACL in football, we moved him to point, and he has just really embraced it."
The Plainsmen went to a diamond-and-one defense on Cardinal junior forward Hadley Gillum. He finished with 21 points, but just two in the second half before fouling out with 5:14 remaining. Hubert provided great defense on Gillum, while Herl collected seven points and four steals in the run. He had six steals for the game, mainly using his 6-foot-3 frame to intercept passes. Herl led the Plainsmen with 23 points. Plainville finished 15-6.
"Stepped up as a leader, and he really creates some matchup problems with his speed and his height and his length," Allison said. "Can't really say enough about what he has done."