OTIS — The Ness City High School boys’ basketball program might be in a bit of a transition phase.
But nothing really has changed between the baselines for the Eagles. That much was certain Friday night when the Eagles put together a long run through the second and third quarters to dispose of Central Prairie League foe Otis-Bison, 67-34.
“We are blessed with the team we have,” said Marc Cowles, who officially now is the Eagles’ head coach. “They make a lot of things better. You can overcome some things when you have this talent and kids that play really well together.”
Cowles this week became the Eagles’ new coach and school’s athletic director. On Jan. 30, the district announced coach Matt Overlease was on an extended leave of absence while dealing with a personal matter. Then, the school board accepted Overlease’s resignation at Monday’s meeting.
Cowles and assistant coach Garrett Flax, a 2012 Ness City graduate, are at the helm going forward, a school official said Friday.
But on the court, it’s business as usual for the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A as Ness City moved to 16-1 with Friday’s blowout win — the Eagles’ ninth straight.
“Kids are so resilient,” said Cowles, who was the head coach for the third straight game. “I wish adults, myself, could be as resilient as these kids have shown.”
The Eagles even faced a little adversity in Friday’s game, though it didn’t last long. Otis-Bison, the No. 7-ranked team in Class 1A Division II, gave up a 9-0 run to the visiting Eagles, but battled back to make it 9-7.
Behind the play of sophomore Maitland Wiltse and seniors Trevor Trapp and Kade Urban, Otis-Bison went toe-to-toe through the rest of the first quarter with standout senior Chandler Stiawalt and the Eagles.
Despite Stiawalt’s 11 first-quarter points, the Cougars got a traditional 3-point play from Trapp as time expired on the opening quarter to make it 18-16. Then, Otis-Bison tied things at 18 at the start of the second.
The rest of the night, however, belonged to the Eagles.
“Defensively, we settled down,” Cowles said. “They had the ball and a chance to take the lead.”
A 3-pointer each from senior Payton Fellhoelter and sophomore John Pfannenstiel, and the Eagles quickly took a 28-18 lead that extended to 35-22 by halftime.
It didn’t get much better from there for the outmatched Cougars, who despite the loss, still own a 12-5 record. Otis-Bison had just 12 points in the second half, with Wiltse — the Cougars’ 6-foot-4 center — having eight of them.
“I feel bad sometimes because I’m critical about how we play defense, and I think we can play better,” Cowles said. “Then I look at the book, and we have all those single-digit quarters.”
Ness City’s 6-foot-6 center Christian Scheopner got in on the action in the third, scoring all six of his points in a burst that saw the Eagles’ lead grow to 24 by the start of the fourth.
Midway through the fourth, Stiawalt put the finishing touch on the win when he grabbed a long alley-oop lob from Pfannenstiel and slammed it home with four minutes left. Shortly after, each team cleared the bench for reserve play.
Stiawalt led all scorers with 22 points, while Fellhoelter added 10 for the Eagles. Wiltse led the Cougars with 17.
The Eagles, with three games left in the regular season, will play host to Claflin-Central Plains on Tuesday, a team they beat 52-46 in January in the St. John tournament. Ness City hasn’t lost since a 53-42 setback to St. John on Jan. 6, and has been ranked No. 1 since then defeating the Tigers on Jan. 21.
Cowles doesn’t see any reason why the Eagles will let up, despite the transition.
“All the groundwork has been laid. All of the preparation has been put together,” Cowles said. “The work was put forward by the staff in the summer. These kids, all the work they do, that groundwork has all been laid out. Now, they just have to go execute and fall back on the skills they have — the knowledge they have of the game.”
Otis-Bison girls 53, Ness City 37
It didn’t take long for senior Taylor Regan and the Otis-Bison girls to establish themselves. The Cougars scored the first six points and jumped out to a 15-7 lead after one quarter behind Regan’s eight points.
Regan went on to score 25 and the Cougars, ranked No. 2 in Class 1A Division II, went on to the 53-37 win — their third straight — and a 15-2 record. Otis-Bison’s lone losses have come to Class 3A Russell and Class 2A top-ranked Claflin-Central Plains.
Otis-Bison also got 12 points from freshman Maddie Wiltse.
Ness City (4-13) was led by 12 points for senior Jaycie Richardson, and got nine from junior Baylee Holecek.