OTTUMWA — Trae Swartz was eager to meet the challenge of going head-to-head with Oskaloosa senior Xavier Foster.
“I was really looking forward to it,” Swartz said. “He’s seven-feet tall. I haven’t seen anything like that since last year when we played Keokuk and certainly no one as talented at that height like Xavier.
“I was looking forward to the competition.”
The competition never materilized for the Ottumwa junior. Foster could only watch Swartz score a game-high 21 points, leading the Bulldogs to an impressive 60-36 win over the Indians. Foster missed his eighth game of the season, including a fourth straight game while recovering from a concussion sustained last week in a loss at Pella.
“We were not totally sure if he was going to play, but we prepared like he would be out there,” Swartz said. “We did a pretty good job coming into the game preparing for him. We didn’t think this was going to be an easy walk through the park. We were prepared for the rivalry.”
The renewal of the Ottumwa-Oskaloosa boys basketball rivalry turned into a one-sided affair. The Bulldogs scored seconds into the very first possession on a layup by Swartz.
Oskaloosa countered with a 3-point jumper by Nate Van Veldhuizen, who would go on to lead the Indians with 13 points. That go-ahead shot would prove to be the only points Osky would score in the opening eight minutes as Swartz scored inside on back-to-back possessions, part of a 10-point opening quarter as Ottumwa scored 15 unanswered points to open a 17-3 lead.
“It’s pretty close to the best we’ve played,” Ottumwa head boys basketball coach Neil Hartz said. “We’ve been preaching from day one that our defense is going to start our offense. It all came together. This is a rival we need to be playing every year. This is how it should be. We need to be jacked up when we play Oskaloosa.”
While Swartz was the only OHS player to reach double figures in scoring, the 24-point win over the defending 3A state champions was hardly a one-man effort. The Bulldogs had 10 different players score from the field with a dozen different players grabbing at least one rebound and collecting at least one assist.
“Teams are going to double Trae. We know that going in, but Trae is an unselfish player,” Hartz said. “If he gets that double-team, he kicks it to the open player and those players make shots. We’ve got guys out there that can dive in and cut to the basket to create open looks. That’s what we need. When Trae gets doubled, we need guys to step up.”
Adam Greiner exited along with Swartz after completing a 3-point play midway through the fourth quarter created by a steal and long pass from Swartz, finishing with seven points in the win. Kie Glosser also provided an excellent floor game to compliment Swartz, leading OHS with eight rebounds and four assists to go along with five points.
“We’re coming off a big win last week at Des Moines East. We just wanted to build off that,” Glosser said. “This was big. We’ve either started slow and had to fight from behind or not put away teams when we’ve had the chance. We got up big in this game and never let up.”
While Swartz nearly matched his season-scoring average of 22.4 points a game, Foster could only sit and watch entering the game averaging 23.4 points in just five games so far this season for the Indians. The Osky senior’s frustrating season included missing the final four games prior to the holiday break due to mononucleosis before finally returning two weeks ago, scoring 36 points in a 73-64 loss to Norwalk, the team the Indians beat for the 3A state title last season.
Foster scored 18 points last Monday at Pella before a collision under the basket in the aftermath of blocking a shot sent the future Iowa State Cyclone down the floor. That’s the last play Foster has made for the Indians after being escorted off the court and into concussion protocol.
“I’ve never played Ottumwa before. It was something I was looking forward to all year,” Foster said. “I was talking the other day with my teammates about how close I am to scoring my 1,000th point. I’m 17 points away and I’ve been out half the season. It’s been tough being out of action.”
The loss drops Oskaloosa to 5-8 on the season. Foster hopes to return on Friday night when the Indians return to Little Hawkeye Conference play at Grinnell.
“We’ve got a lot of time to come back and a lot of time to build something special,” Foster said. “Anything is still possible for us.”
Ottumwa feels the same way, improving to 5-7 on the season with seven of the next eight games at home for the Bulldogs. Next up is a rematch on Friday with Des Moines North, who edged the Bulldogs 69-66 in Des Moines on Dec. 20 despite a school record 42 points scored by Swartz.
“We’re hitting our peak right now,” Hartz said. “There’s nobody on our schedule that we can’t go out, play with and beat the way we’re playing.”