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Girls basketball: Late drought costs Bulldogs

Feb. 19—DES MOINES — When Miya Fuller collected a steal at midcourt and drove to the basket for a go-ahead lay-up, it felt like the Ottumwa High School girls basketball team had finally pushed the boulder up the mountain.

Despite struggling to hit a shot from the field in the first half, the Bulldogs had overcome a 12-point deficit at 14th-ranked Des Moines Roosevelt on Saturday night. Suddenly, the dream of competing in a regional final for the first time in 17 years was starting to seem more like a reality.

Fuller gave Ottumwa its biggest lead of the night second later, hitting a tiebreaking jumper that put the Bulldogs up 37-35 entering the final minute of the third quarter. Ottumwa's regional championship dreams, however, quickly turned into a nightmare in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs failed to score a point for over seven minutes after Fuller's go-ahead jump shot.

Des Moines Roosevelt responded by scoring 15 points during Ottumwa's drought. Olivia Bailey produced a double-double for the Roughriders, scoring 12 points while pulling in 16 rebounds and blocking five shots leading Roosevelt to a 52-41 win over the Bulldogs in the Class 5A, Region 3 semifinals.

Roosevelt (15-7) will just a few miles west on Highway 235 to compete at third-ranked Dowling Catholic (18-4) on Tuesday for a berth in the Iowa High School Girls State Basketball Tournament. Ottumwa ends the season with a record of 16-5, the most single-season wins for any Bulldog girls basketball team since the 16-8 campaign in 2007 that culminated with Ottumwa's last trip to a regional final.

"It's kind of been the story of our season offensively. We have spurts were we were really, really good," Ottumwa head girls basketball coach Joe VandenBerg said. "We weren't great in the first half, we were really good in the third quarter, but then we went back to some old ways and old habits. It's kind of how it's went for us at times this season. Against Ames, we weren't great. The game before it (against Des Moines Lincoln) and the game after it (against Des Moines East), we shot the lights out.

"How do we get that consistent offense happening day in and day out, game in and game out? That's where we need to put some more time in. We just weren't in a groove, but we hung around. Then we got hot. Then we cooled down. Being able to keep up that level of play consistently is something we have to continue to work at going into next season."

Nellie Morgan matched Bailey with a game-high 12 points to lead Ottumwa, hitting her first six shots from the free throw line to help Ottumwa overcome a 4-25 shooting performance in the first half. The Bulldogs were able to make 11 of 14 shots from the charity stripe in the opening 16 minutes, trimming Roosevelt's 23-11 lead down to 29-21 by halftime.

"We all know that, even if the ball doesn't fall, we can pick it up on defense and try to get steals to push the ball in transition," Morgan said. "We were able to do that and draw fouls. Even if we have to score all our points from the foul line, that can keep us in the game."

The mounting fouls also forced Roosevelt's 5-11 sophomore center, Jaleah Lee, to be a spectator for most of the game after picking up three fouls midway through the first half and her fourth foul midway through the third quarter. Ottumwa began to hit open shots in the third quarter, including 3-pointers by Camdyn Crouse and Fuller that helped the Bulldogs continue to shrink the Roosevelt lead before Fuller finally put OHS on top for the first time stealing a pass at midcourt and driving in uncontested for the lay-up that gave OHS a 35-34 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.

"That third quarter was definitely our best quarter. We had our most energy in that quarter and we were really using it to push us both offensively and defensively," Fuller said. "It was just a matter of keeping that energy from flipping over to their side."

Each lead that Fuller provided, first with her breakaway lay-up and with her high post jumper on the next possession, was quickly erased by Roosevelt. After tying the game at 35-35 on a free throw, the Roughriders would catch and pass Ottumwa in the final minute of the third on a lay-up and two free throws on consecutive possessions by Bailey, sending Roosevelt into the fourth quarter leading 39-37.

Neither team scored during the first three minutes of the fourth quarter as Ottumwa missed shots outside for the lead and were stymied inside by the length of Bailey. Hinebaugh finally drew a foul on the 6-0 Roosevelt junior forward midway through the fourth quarter, giving Ottumwa a chance to tie the game at the foul line.

Instead, Hinebaugh missed both free throws. It was part of a frustrating final eight minutes for Ottumwa that included just one made field goal by Caldwell and two made free throws by Morgan in the final two minutes.

"It just felt like the energy flipped to (Roosevelt's) side," Fuller said. "We had a lot of good looks. The shots just didn't fall. It just didn't go the way we wanted."

Roosevelt, meanwhile, sprinted away from the Bulldogs in the final four minutes. Kenna Ledinsky provided the final surge to the finish for the Roughriders, scoring seven of her 10 points on three consecutive possessions opening an 11-point Roosevelt lead.

"We accomplished a lot of great things this season," Fuller said. "We achieved a lot of milestones, but we still expected so much more from this season."

Fuller finished with 11 points in the contest as Ottumwa will enter the 2024-25 season losing just two seniors (Syndey Rockhold and Leah McKay) while returning a group of seven juniors that have taken the program from a six-win season as freshman to consecutive winning seasons with hopes of making a run at the program's first state tournament berth in over two decades.

"We know how to prepare ourselves though the offseason and what we're going to do to accomplish our goals next season," Fuller said. "I feel like we can definitely make it to the regional finals and can definitely work our way to the state tournament. I'm not sure I would have believed we were capable of that two years ago. That shows how much we've grown together and how much work we've put in together to make us such a better team."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.