The majority of these nine seniors were together during a perfect middle school career. Their high school career is like no other, posting 73 victories in the past three seasons.
The 73rd victory was an impressive 73-49 win Friday in the 4A State Tournament semifinals over Andale in Salina.
Ottawa (24-0) plays in its fourth straight state championship game 6:15 p.m. today against the winner of Highland Park and Abilene.
The Cyclones’ scoring machine Semi Ojeleye had his shooting eye on target, especially in the first quarter where he hit for 21 points. He finished with a 4A state single-game tourney record 45 points. He eclipsed the old mark of 41 points set last year by Pratt’s Micah Swank.
“My teammates found me in rhythm,” Ojeleye, who was 14 of 29 from the field, said. “I have been working on my shot. You let it fly and pray they go in. It felt great.”
Ottawa coach Jon McKowen said it was good to see Ojeleye see the fruits of his labor with all of the records he has accumulated recently.
“He has been grinding a little bit,” McKowen said. “I was pleased for Semi. He works so hard on the little things. For it to pay off on a big stage was great. I am glad he got to share it with 4,000 people. It takes a lot of talent and work ethic.
Ottawa used an 18-3 run to go from a 14-13 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter to a 32-16 lead with 4:50 remaining in the first half.
Ottawa led 39-21 at halftime behind Ojeleye’s 25 points.
Andale made a run, slicing the deficit to 49-36 with three minutes remaining in the third. Andale can light it up from the outside.
The Indians were 6-of-22 from behind the arc.
“They have a bunch of guys that can shoot it,” McKowen said of Andale. “We had to extend, but also contain at the same time. It is a tough combination to do. In spurts we did a good job. In spurts, they got loose.”
Ojeleye said it was not easy to guard both phases.
“When you have a team that talented, who can do both things, it is that much harder,” the future Duke Blue Devil said. “The film aspect helped us out.”
Ottawa recovered with a 13-7 spurt to open a 66-43 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Senior Dallas Natt continued to set the tone all over the floor.
“Dallas does an amazing job,” McKowen said. “He is a college basketball player that is going to go run track. He gives us everything on the floor. Without a great point guard you don’t get to put up scoring records. That is the main reason why Semi is getting records is because of Dallas. I always tell my point guards, ‘Your only stat is wins and losses. If we lose, it is your fault. If we win, it is because of you.’”
It will be the final game today for the nine seniors playing together. McKowen said they need to treat it like any other game.
“It is impressive,” McKowen said about playing in four straight state title games. “I am excited to get to coach these guys one more game. These nine seniors that have been through the ups and downs, battled hard and stayed with it. That says a lot about their character. I am blessed to be their head coach.
“It starts with nine seniors staying on the team. They make us better in games. They push each other in practice. They play the right way.”
The Ottawa players understand how to prepare for this situation.
“It gives you a comfort level,” McKowen said. “It is a quick turnaround. It is tough to do. You are who are right now. We get to play the in championship game.
“We are blessed we have a great team. The kids have worked hard at it. We will play a great team in the finals.”
Andale (49) — Seiler 10, Hermreck 7, Deaver 10, H. Knoblauch 9, Macari 2, B. Knoblauch 9, Walstad 2.
Ottawa (73) — Ojeleye 45, Hasty 8, Shaffer 6, Smith 4, A. Blaue 2, Graf 4.