Osage City rides Fort, fortitude to 56-49 championship win over Sabetha

Osage City fans cheer on the OCHS Indians during the 3A championship game Saturday at Hutchinson. Photo by Andrew Whitaker, The Hutchinson News.

By Brent Maycock, cjonline.com

HUTCHINSON — Call it “Fort”-itude. Because that’s in a nut-shell what Saturday’s Class 3A boys state championship boiled down to.

Would Sabetha’s pressure and zone defense silence Osage City? Or would Duncan Fort and the Indians impose their will and deny the Bluejays their first state title?

The answer was the latter, as Fort punctuated a phenomenal season with 27 points and 10 rebounds, carrying Osage City to its first state title since 2000 and third overall with a 56-49 victory over Sabetha. The Indians finished the season 25-1, while Sabetha finished 24-2.

“It’s two absolutely contrasting styles of playing basketball,” said Osage City coach Dennis Fort, who got to share the title with his son. “They’ve got that little press to slow us down, the zone defense to slow us down and being methodical on offense. I didn’t feel like we could beat them if we played that way.

“The other side of that is we play hard-nosed man-to-man defense and like the transition. It was just two complete opposites of each other and I told my kids going in it was going to see who had the fortitude to put their will on the other one.”

Community pep rally has been scheduled for the 3A State Basketball Champs, 7 p.m. March 22, at the Richard Homewood Gymnasium, at Osage City Schools.

Early on Sabetha was winning that battle. The Bluejays’ zone frustrated Osage City into quick 3-point looks, a pair of turnovers and the Bluejays were able to counter with getting the shots they wanted, jumping out to a quick 9-3 lead.

If a halftime deficit in Friday’s semifinal didn’t faze Osage City, neither would Sabetha’s opening salvo. And just like the semifinal rout of Southeast-Saline, the Indians got some huge shots early from their role players to jump-start the victory.

First, Kaleb Irvin hit a 3-pointer to get the Indians on the board. Then Tyson Wilkins hit one of his two 3-pointers in the game. When Jason Cooley closed the period with another 3-pointer, it put Osage City up for good, 15-13, and freed things up for Duncan Fort to take over.

“That’s big time,” Fort said of his teammate’s efforts. “You hit three after three after three and all the momentum is swinging toward you. Now you think I have to go out and make a play, too, and do whatever I can to help my team out. That’s just what we do, we feed off each other.”

With the Sabetha defense softened a bit by Osage City’s 3-point barrage, the Indians began to feed their horse and Fort delivered. After going just two for his first seven, the 6-foot-5 senior connected on eight of his last 10 shots, scoring nine in the second quarter to help the Indians grab a 30-20 halftime lead and eight more in the third as Osage City built a 40-27 lead.

“He’s a great player and he’s smart, too,” Sabetha coach Scott Burger said. “They had some other kids step up and I was just so happy how we competed because we could have laid down several times and we didn’t.”

In fact, down 14, Sabetha stormed back to life. A 7-0 run capped by five straight points from Brock Frey to end the third quarter trimmed Osage City’s lead to 40-34 and the Bluejays opened the fourth with a baseline jumper from Alec Kirwan to pull within four.

It was still a four-point game when Caleb Strahm made two free throws, but Ryan Haskins — Friday’s hero with 29 points — scored on a driving layup and then Fort was fouled putting down a dunk and converted the three-point play to restore a 10-point Indian lead.

It should have been the exclamation point on the title, but Osage City missed enough free throws late (8 of 14) to allow Sabetha to get within five with 21 seconds to play on consecutive 3-pointers from Frey and Montgomery.

Haskins iced the win with two free throws with 20 seconds left and Sabetha missed three 3-pointers at the end, Fort swatting one into the hallway of the Sports Arena.

“It got to a 13-point lead and I felt like our kids got a little complacent,” Dennis Fort said. “We thought we’d already won the state championship. But we did enough at the end and got it done.”

Wilkins and Haskins each finished with 11 points with each adding seven rebounds and Haskins also dishing out seven assists. Frey led the Bluejays with 14 points, while Montgomery added 12 and Kirwan had 11.

This story originally published on cjonline.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Reprinted with permission. Reach Brent Maycock at [email protected].

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