When you think about the high school career of Semi Ojeleye, it is hard to imagine there is anything the Ottawa star hasn’t accomplished. But with the Cyclones’ 54-45 win over Highland Park, one major hole in the highest scoring career in Kansas high school history was filled. After making it to the championship game in the previous three seasons, the Ottawa seniors picked up a state title in their last attempt.
“It has been a long season,” said Ojeleye, “and it’s been a long four years. Having this fan base and these teammates, I couldn’t have done it without them. It was tough, every game. Everybody knows our team is good and they are coming after us with that target on our backs, so we have to come out every night and bring our A-game.”
Ojeleye played his last high school game before putting on a Duke uniform, and produced as always for Ottawa. The senior gave the team 27 points and 15 rebounds in a championship double-double effort. Dallas Natt added 12 points.
The Cyclones came into the game with an undefeated record, but they weren’t the only undefeated team left in the state. Highland Park came into the championship game with an unblemished record as well, setting up what was maybe the matchup of the year in the state of Kansas.
After getting the opening tip, Ottawa made a major statement early. With the first possession of the game, Natt lobbed it up to Ojeleye for a monster alley-oop.
The Cyclones got off to the hot start, but the Scots weathered the storm and took a 13-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Ottawa picked it up in the second quarter and continued feeding Ojeleye to take a 23-22 lead into the locker room.
Jahmal McMurray and the Scots traded with the Cyclones in the second half, but late in the fourth quarter, a small Ottawa lead became insurmountable as Highland Park couldn’t find a way to get a basket. And with Ojeleye clearing the glass, there were no second chance opportunities.
The first loss of the season was a hard one for Highland Park to swallow. But on the other side of the gym, the players were no strangers to losing in state championship games.
“That is why losing feels so good,” said Ojeleye. “Those bitter losses. That’s why this one is extra special. That much more excited to win after those three losses in a row.”
Wamego girls dethrone the champs
The McPherson basketball program is one of the most storied traditions in the state. Last season the Bullpups won yet another state championship banner to add to the rafters in the Roundhouse. This season the team was looking to make it two in a row.
But the Wamego Page family act completed a state championship season with a 60-53 win over the defending champions.
“It is wonderful sharing this with my daughters,” said Wamego head coach Jim Page. “I am the most lucky, probably the most blessed guy in the world. That is the neatest thing, is I get to share that time with them.”
Page’s two daughters, Lanie and Kaylee Page proved too much for McPherson to handle. Kaylee, a 6-foot-2 junior, finished with 22 points, showing the range and ball handling skills of a guard to go along with her size. Lanie, a sophomore, also 6-foot-2, chipped in 20 points and 10 rebounds for a championship double-double.
“We have been through everything together,” said Kaylee of the relationship with her father. “He has coached me for so long. So it was amazing. I was crying. I was so happy for all three of us.
Wamego started hot early, controlling most of the first quarter with Kaylee Page’s 3-point shooting. But McPherson clawed back in and a Hannah Willems 3 at the end of the quarter gave the Bullpups an 11-10 lead.
In the second quarter, McPherson rode the momentum of the Willems shot and tried to pull away from the Red Raiders. But Wamego took charge and opened up a 25-20 lead going into the locker room.
In the third quarter, the Red Raiders started to pull away with McPherson struggling to keep the game within reach. The Bullpups kept the Wamego lead to 5 after three quarters, but got into big foul trouble when Katelyn Loecker picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter.
Early into the fourth quarter, Janae Barnes and Hailey Ruder picked up their fourth fouls for McPherson as well, paying the price for the relentless pounding from Lanie Page inside.
Despite having its three best players with four fouls and practically the entire fourth quarter to play, McPherson closed the gap. Loecker fouled out with more than three minutes left in the game, leaving with 25 points, and ending a stellar high school career.
But Barnes and the Bullpups had a chance at the end. Barnes finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Bullpups, keeping the championship hope alive. McPherson just couldn’t get the late basket it needed and Wamego closed the game out from the free throw line.
“Last year we came really close,” said Kaylee Page. “It was so much sweeter getting it this time, and actually finishing it out, which we knew we could do. Everyone expected us to do it. It just feels so good to be able to do it this year.”