ALMA — As was expected of the second seed in their substate bracket, the Wabaunsee boys took care of business in the first round, dispatching Oskaloosa 69-37. They advanced to face a familiar foe.
Thursday the Chargers will travel to St. Marys for a third match against the Bears, who were seeded third in the bracket.
With nothing guaranteed in the playoffs, Wabaunsee coach Christian Ulsaker was pleased that the Chargers were focused and on task. They bolted to a 23-10 first quarter advantage. Then when Oskaloosa scratched back to within seven late in the second period, the Chargers locked down on the defensive end. Wabaunsee outscored the visitors 35-9 the rest of the way.
“Our guys prepared well,” Ulsaker said. “We knew Oskaloosa was going to come out and really try to light it up from the three-point line. Offensively we felt like we could get pretty much what we wanted. We just had to be patient and take what the defense gave us.”
The Chargers hit 48 percent of their attempts from the field and got another 10 points from the free throw line. Oskaloosa, meanwhile, converted just 28 percent of their shots and made just five free throws.
Wabaunsee, which improved to 14-6, was led by Eli Oliver with 23 points. Fellow senior Ryan Schutter added 13 points from his position in the post.
“Mostly I was looking to drive to the basket. I wasn’t really looking for my shot,” Oliver said. “If the defense closed out hard, I just tried to get in the lane. If (a defender) helped on me, then I tried to dish it down to my big man Ryan.”
Seventh-seeded Oskaloosa was led by Trenton VanHoutan, who finished with 16. Oskaloosa ended its season with a 5-15 mark.
Wabaunsee’s next opponent, St. Marys, defeated Kansas City Christian 69-37, advancing to the second round and setting up a third meeting between the Bears and the Chargers. The first match, at Wabaunsee, ended in a double overtime loss for the Chargers. At St. Marys, the Chargers’ offense sputtered in a 58-43 defeat.
“(St. Marys coach Will Spradling) has really transformed his offense from years past,” Ulsaker said. “He’s usually had a dominant big man that he can get the ball inside and work some KU high-low action. So now he’s really switched it to try to get (senior guard) Keller Hurla off screens.
“We’ve got to make Keller uncomfortable and make other kids beat us. Offensively, you’ve got to put the ball in the hoop. We only scored 43 points the last time we played them. That’s not going to be enough to beat a team like St. Marys.”
After losing to St. Marys in the substate finale a year ago, then twice in his senior season, Oliver is anxious to defeat the rival Bears.
“A lot of their guys, we’ve been playing together since before junior high,” Oliver said. “So, this will be like our twelfth time playing them in my career. I know those guys pretty well, and it means more than just another game.”
Ulsaker and Oliver hope that Monday’s win over Oskaloosa sparks another playoff run like the two experienced in 2021. Of the primary contributors to the team that reached the 2A state finals in Manhattan that spring, Oliver is the lone returner.
“Luckily we have five or six kids who were on the bench for that, watching,” Ulsaker said. “They understand the experience of (playing in) Bramlage, and they’re really itching to get back. We just want to keep that tradition here at Wabaunsee where the expectation is Manhattan. We end every practice and start every game with ‘The Hat’ on three for a reason. We’re trying to get back to Manhattan.”
WABAUNSEE 67, OSKALOOSA 34
Oskaloosa (5-15) — 10; 16; 4; 4; — 34
Wabaunsee (14-6) — 23; 17; 18; 9; — 67
Oskaloosa — VanHoutan 16 (6-18), Perry 1 (0-2), Roe 0 (0-0), Rockhold 7 (3-11), Miller 3 (1-3), Baker 3 (1-3), Kesinger 2 (1-1), Haynes 0 (0-2), Bradshaw 0 (0-3), Glavin 2 (0-0), Schroeder 0 (0-0), Subelka 0 (0-0). Total: 34 (12-43).
Wabaunsee — Clark 4 (1-1), Schutter 13 (5-9), Reves 9 (3-6), Oliver 23 (10-21), Z. Frank 6 (2-7), L. Parry 2 (1-2), Havenstein 2 (1-4), Meseke 2 (1-2), Holthaus 4 (2-2), Caden Frank 2 (1-1), Cole Frank 0 (0-1), R. Parry 0 (0-0). Total: 67 (27-56).