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Otis-Bison girls slip past La Crosse in nail-biter

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

La CROSSE -- The Otis-Bison and La Crosse High School girls' basketball teams normally have played games decided in the final seconds.

On Friday, another contest came down to the last shot. La Crosse had two shots in the final six seconds, but missed both. Otis-Bison pulled out a 46-45 road victory between the Rush County rivals.

"The most important win that we have had this year," Otis-Bison coach Richard Schmidt said.

The last four games between the two teams have margins of one, two, two and two points. Ten of the last 13 meetings were within nine points. Otis-Bison improved to 3-6, while La Crosse dropped to 3-6.

"This win will help us just the rest of the season," Schmidt said. "I thought we did a good job of playing man to man defense and we haven't done that all year, and I was just very happy with the effort."

La Crosse led 28-23 at halftime and Otis-Bison took a 34-33 lead after three quarters. The fourth quarter had four ties between two young teams. The Leopards, under first-year coach Laron Nordstedt, had no one in double figures, but had three players with nine points and five finish with at least six. Of those five players, four are freshmen or sophomores, including freshman forward Morgan West, who finished with seven points and 14 rebounds.

"Work in progress," Nordstedt said. "I keep telling the girls we have got to improve everyday. The first two games out of the gate, we kind of struggled. Still trying to figure out our identity. The last two games, we have started to figure things out. We are getting better in all aspects of the game. We have got a really young team."

Otis-Bison had six players score, including 13 from senior Hannah Bannister and 12 from junior Annie Kraisinger.

On Dec. 14, the Cougars lost to La Crosse 51-49. This time, Bannister scored four points in the fourth quarter, and helped lead the team after senior forward Kim Pechanec fouled out with 4:01 left. That included the game's final points on two free throws with 33 seconds remaining.

"We need that, and she is the one that has to do that," Schmidt said. "Tonight, I think is really the first time it really soaked in to her that she really has to do that. The last time we played them, she had a chance at a last-second shot and passed it off. I think that has bothered her ever since then. I think this is really big for her."

La Crosse had several chances to score in the final seconds. Sophomore Marissa Wagner had a breakaway layup, but didn't score. The Leopards had the possession after a jump ball. After a timeout with 6.8 seconds remaining, La Crosse inbounded the ball under the basket. Otis-Bison wanted to cover La Crosse's best shooters and not allow an easy basket underneath. They played man on two Leopards and zone on three.

Wagner had a good look, but missed the jumper.

"We actually got the look we wanted," Nordstedt said. "It didn't fall."

After the offensive rebound, senior Rachel Weigel released a turnaround jumper on the left side just before the buzzer. The ball fell short -- and Otis-Bison collected a win in another close Rush County contest.

"We were lucky," Schmidt said.