OTTUMWA — The Mount Pleasant Panthers dared anyone else on the Ottumwa boys basketball team to beat them on Monday night.
Joe Hammer took that dare.
With Mount Pleasant’s zone defense clamping down on Swartz inside, Hammer took advantage of several open looks outside. The result was a 15-point first half that including five makes from 3-point range.
Hammer finishes with six makes from beyond the arc, eventually opening things up for Swartz who finished with a game-high 24 points. It all added up to a 77-61 win over the Panthers on Monday night at Evans Middle School Gymnasium.
“Joe made shots. Drake (Handling) made shots. Matt (Greave) made shots,” OHS head boys basketball coach Neil Hartz said. “They were not guarding Matt or Drake in the middle, so they turned around and hit the open shot. We were going to keep throwing it there if they weren’t going to guard them. Once they started guarding us away from the basket, that’s when Trae took over.
“Joe was big in the first half. Gatlin (Menninga) and Kie (Glosser) were unbelievable on the defensive end. That’s how we build where we are, with our defense leading in to our offense.”
Swartz nearly set a school record for points in a single game in the first meeting with the Panthers, a 57-45 win for the Bulldogs at Mount Pleasant. Swartz scored 36 points, at the time three shy of a record the OHS junior would break later in the week at Des Moines North.
The Panthers were fully aware of Swartz on Monday, putting two defenders on the starting center. Hammer began to shoot Mount Pleasant (10-9) out of that zone early, hitting a 3-pointer from the corner on Ottumwa’s second possession.
Before the opening quarter was over, Hammer had sunk two more shots from beyond the arc. Ottumwa scored nine straight points to end the period and led 17-8. The Panthers would get as close as seven on a spinning lay-up by Keegan Kohorst, who scored 18 points to lead Mount Pleasant, to open the second quarter.
That would be as close as the Panthers would get the rest of the way. Hammer nailed another 3-pointer before Adam Greiner scored after stealing the ensuing inbounds pass, giving OHS a sudden 22-10 lead.
“It’s going to make teams scout us more than just how to take away Trae,” Hartz said. “If teams want to take Trae away from us, that’s fine. We’ve got plenty of guys on our team are going to step up. There’s no one on our team I don’t trust to go out there and score.”
Mount Pleasant was able to hang around by finding quality looks on the offensive end. The Panthers came a made basket away from shooting over 50 percent (24-49) for the night with three players reaching double figures.
The Panthers twice got as 55-48 early in the fourth quarter and were still within striking distance after Glosser picked up his fifth foul, allowing Kohorst to cut Ottumwa’s lead down to 63-54 from the foul line with 3:58 left. Ottumwa responded by scoring the next 11 points, including lay-ups inside from Greave (capping an 11-point performance), Swartz and Menninga who was fouled after grabbing a long inbounds pass and beating the Panther press.
Menninga missed the free throw. Swartz was there for the board, drawing two more free throws as Ottumwa built a 20-point lead.
“It’s all about the kids. They’ve bought in to what Coach (Kyle) Creamer and I are teaching them,” Hartz said. “They’ve bought in and people are going to have to take us for real. We’re going to be a tough out in the postseason.”
Ottumwa (11-8) is right back in action on Tuesday night, hosting Urbandale in the final regular-season game at Evans Middle School Gymnasium. It will also be Senior Night for the Bulldogs, who will honor Steven Langland, Quentin Bishop, Tayler Young and Drake Handling as Ottumwa will seek to clinch a winning season with the team’s 12th win, a number that has not been reached since OHS went to state in 2004.
“As a first-year head coach, I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors. They’ve had four head coaches in four years and stuck with this program,” Hartz said. “They’ve helped bring us back. Ottumwa basketball is officially back.”