by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Osseo won one game and lost two to take home the fourth-place trophy at the state girls’ basketball tournament last week.
The Orioles defeated St. Paul Central 63-56 in the quarterfinal March 13, lost to No. 1 and defending state champion Hopkins 73-50 in the semifinals March 14 and fell to Eastview 58-43 in the third-place game March 16. The Orioles were making the school’s 14th state appearance.
“You never want to lose your last game but the fact you are one of four teams in 4A to play at the end of the year said something for our program, our kids, their work ethics,” first-year Osseo head coach John Rieser said. “It was really a good season.”
ST. PAUL CENTRAL
The Orioles erased an early 12-point deficit, then senior forward Phillis Webb took over late in the game to spark Osseo to victory.
Osseo, seeded fourth, got off to a slow start and trailed fifth-seeded Central 17-5 early.
“We always felt as a coaching staff and as a team that we could get back into the game. It wasn’t going to end up like that,” Rieser said. “It was just the way we fell behind. It was not the way we can play basketball so we just talked about that in one of the timeouts and the kids refocused. They knew what they needed to do and how to do it.”
Osseo stayed close in the first half thanks to 10 points each from junior guard Madi Malone and Webb. Malone hit two free throws and a three to tie the score 27-27 and Webb scored off a fast-break with 6 seconds left to put Osseo up 29-27 at halftime.
The second half was close all the way and the score was tied 54-54 with 3:30 left. Webb then exploded and scored seven of Osseo’s final nine points to lead Osseo to victory. The Orioles played ferocious defense and held Central to one basket down the stretch.
Webb finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Ayo Porte had 11 points and 10 rebounds, Malone had 10 points, Janay Morton and Ari Jones added 8 and Belinda Barfknecht 7. Malone and Jones were both 2 for 2 from downtown.
The Orioles were seeking revenge from last year’s loss to Hopkins in the state championship game, and for the first half, they matched the No. 1 ranked Royals basket for basket, rebound for rebound. They actually led 21-20 on a three by Jones and 23-21 on a Porte lay-up. Hopkins rallied and led 31-25 at halftime.
Osseo had been a strong second half team all season so hopes were high for a stunning upset. But that was not to be as the powerful Royals overwhelmed and wore down the smaller Orioles in the second half with their superior size, speed and depth.
“We had been a good second half team in the past and we really felt like we had a shot coming into the second half of this one,” Rieser said. “We were confident but that’s a really good team. They seemed to find another gear that in the past we have been able to do to other teams what they did to us.”
Hopkins outscored Osseo 20-6 in the first seven minutes of the second half to turn a close game into a 51-31 rout. The Orioles had the athletes to run with Hopkins but they had no answers for Hopkins’ size, particularly senior Erin O’Toole. The 6-4 center was simply an immovable object under the boards as she repeatedly came up with offensive rebounds and putbacks and big blocks of Osseo shots on defense. She finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Royal star 6-1 senior forward Nia Coffee exploded in the second half to add to Osseo’s woes.
“That size on the inside is… yeah,” Rieser sighed. “O’Toole played a good game and she really pounded inside. We had answers for that in the past but she is a solid player and we could not handle her. [Nia] Coffey is the Metro Player on the Year. We did a good job against her in the first half but we could not sustain that in the second half. We ran out of gas a little bit.”
Hopkins scored 48 points in the paint compared to 24 for Osseo and the Royals scored 20 second-chance points to Osseo’s six.
Webb and Morton led Osseo with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Asked if she was battered and bruised after battling the much bigger Royals, Webb said with a smile, “It’s worth it.”
Webb said going against big players is nothing new but Hopkins’ combination of size, speed and athleticism is hard to overcome.
“In AAU you go against big players, lanky and tall players so I am used to it,” Webb said. “Hopkins does have the things that make them a star team but you just have to know how to play around that. I think we did pretty good to try to overcome them but they are bigger than us and a little bit quicker. Hopkins is quick and athletic. One girl, Taylor Anderson, is going to UCONN for track. There are lots of athletes on Hopkins.”
The Orioles went against a team about their own size in Eastview, but the third-seeded Lightning shot the lights out from three-point land in the second half to pull away to win the third-place trophy.
Osseo led 20-17 at halftime but Eastview star guard Madison Guebert opened the second half with two threes to ignite the Lightning. Teammate Karli Opatz also was two for two from downtown as Eastview gradually widened the lead. Guebert finished with 22 points, 16 after intermission.
For the first time this season only three Orioles scored in one game. Webb netted 19 points and Morton 14 in their final high school game and Porte had 10.
“It hurts and it burns that we lost,” Webb said. “But we were still able to get to the big stage so it’s worth it.”
Webb and Morton were both named to the all-tournament team.
The Orioles finished the season 22-10 overall and won the conference and the section championships and took fourth place in the state tournament. Osseo was hit hard by graduation. Aside from Morton, Webb and Porte, Osseo opened the season with a roster filled with first-year varsity players. They are quick and athletic but lack height and size. Not many expected Osseo to go this far this season. But Rieser would not say his team over-achieved.
“How do you say we over-achieved when you sort of set the goals being where we were at the end of the year,” he said. “There were some times where we under-achieved and may be there were some times we over-achieved but ultimately we set some goals at the start of the season we thought we could accomplish and we got here.”
The Orioles will lose seniors in Webb, Morton, Barfknecht, Annie Schoeben and Briana Jones. Webb and Morton, who will both be going to Eastern Michigan University on basketball scholarships, have been with the program for four and five years, respectively.
“Seems like Janay has been around as long as I have and Phillis has been here for four years,” Rieser said. “Belinda Barfknecht played herself into a starting position with hard work and determination and Annie Schoeben did everything we asked her all season long. It will be hard to replace this group of seniors. But a new group is coming in and somebody has to step up. I think we have a core group of young kids that are hungry and we are hoping that we will be back here next year.”
Contact Bob San at email@example.com