Oakley boys win third straight
By CONOR NICHOLL
OAKLEY -- Three plays Friday night encapsulated the Oakley High School boys' basketball team's height, athleticism and jumping ability that arguably no area team can match.
With 5 minutes, 6 seconds left in the third quarter, 6-foot-6 junior Mason Scheetz delivered a dunk off a steal, the first time a Plainsmen has dunked this winter.
In the final seconds of the third quarter, 6-3 senior point guard Darius Herl stole the ball and went in for another dunk. He missed, but 6-1 sophomore Cole Zimmerman followed the play, grabbed the offensive rebound and scored.
Early in the fourth quarter, Scheetz had a steal in the open court. He again tried to dunk, but Tribune-Greeley County committed an intentional foul. Scheetz made both free throws, part of a high-flying, offensive attack in a 78-60 Oakley victory.
"I don't know if I have ever coached anyone who has had so much height with the talent and athleticism that they have got here, it's unbelievable," said first-year coach Craig Wamsley, a veteran of high school and college basketball. "It's been a lot of fun. Like coach (Mike) Kuhlman and I tell them everyday, 'The sky is the limit.' If we do things right and keep believing in things, we've got everything we need to be very good."
Oakley improved to 9-3 and has won three straight, including back-to-back solid efforts after some subpar play in early January and the Mid-Continent League tournament.
In addition to Scheetz and Herl, the Plainsmen have 6-5 senior forward Austin Baalman, one of the state's top rebounders, 6-3 senior Brayden Hubert, and 6-2, 250-pound junior forward Ryan Kuhn.
"Our length has helped out a lot," Baalman said. "We have a bunch of tall kids and that helps out with everything."
Oakley finished plus-17 on the glass and had three players in double figures, led by Baalman with 17 points and six rebounds. Four players average between 11 and 14 points a contest.
"Sometimes our best offense as well is just throw it up at the rim and let Austin or Mason or someone big go get it, because they have the athleticism to go do that," Wamsley said.
Before the holiday break, Oakley's only loss was a 62-59 defeat to Wallace County, ranked No. 4 in Class 1A Division I. Once 2014 started, Oakley won three straight contests by a combined 16 points before it lost its final two games at the MCL tournament and took fourth.
Wamsley believed Oakley could have lost all five games. Oakley fell down by double digits in multiple contests and had a four-point quarter in the Phillipsburg loss.
"We just didn't come out on fire," Wamsley said.
After a 17-point victory against 1A Wheatland-Grinnell, Oakley played well in a nine-point victory against Goodland on Tuesday; a contest Wamsley labeled as one of the team's best defensive games. On Friday, Oakley never trailed against the 2-10 Jackrabbits, but led 41-29 at halftime. Junior Cody Harney led Greeley County with 17 points.
The coaching staff challenged the team during intermission and Oakley started the second half on a 13-0 run to put the game out of reach.
"Every now and then, we don't really play as a team or don't really have as much fun as I think we should," Baalman said. "Then, we think about it a little bit and we start having fun and start getting those spurts back."
The Plainsmen had four steals in the stretch and punctuated the spurt with Scheetz's dunk.
"We have had some chances and some games where it's been really tight games and they didn't want to try to dunk it," Wamsley said. "Four guys can dunk it probably. They are more worried about scoring the bucket and getting the points -- which is phenomenal. You don't see that very often. It's good for them to get some dunks every now and then."
Oakley girls roll to big win
The Oakley girls have endured a tough stretch as senior forward Laura Dennis, one of the area's top players, has missed the last several weeks with a knee injury. Then the Plainsmen took a big loss to Goodland on Tuesday. On Friday, Oakley gained confidence, Dennis returned and rolled to a 58-13 victory against Greeley County.
"It was just nice to have our chemistry back," senior Brooke Ottley said. "It felt pretty good. We were all just chomping at the bit."
Helped by a trapping press, Oakley started the game on a 32-2 run and moved to 7-5.
"Defensively, we did a pretty good job," coach Randall Rath said.
Ottley collected 20 points, while junior Marlee Rath had 16.
"Her and Marlee both on the perimeter played well," Rath said.
Dennis finished with eight points and a team-high six steals.
"I thought she did a good job," Coach Rath said of Dennis. "She got tired fast. Obviously she hasn't done anything for awhile. Coach (Andy) Starbuck did a really good job of watching her and talking to her. I thought she did a good job. She is just such a presence that it opens other things up."
Greeley County dropped to 2-10. The Jackrabbits won state cross country in the fall and had some athletic talent, but lack a true point guard and has just one senior. The Jackrabbits had 34 turnovers, including 25 in the first half.
"We get down real easy, and then we start making bad decisions with our passes and then we start forcing passes," Greeley County coach David Schneider said.