OSAGE — Shot after shot, drive after drive, and rebound after rebound, fans at the Osage High School gym Tuesday night were hanging on every bit of a crucial match-up between Rockford and Osage.
A standing-room-only crowd went breathless every time a shot went up, and erupted when it swished through the basket. No matter the side, it was loud.
What it created was the perfect atmosphere for a big Rockford win over Osage, 59-56, which kept the Warriors in the running for a Top of Iowa Conference East Division title.
“That’s what you play basketball for is these type of atmospheres,” Rockford senior Zach Bushbaum said.
How the Warriors got to the win was vintage Rockford.
They had the energy, the timely shooting and the defense to match it all throughout the evening. Every time Osage made a big shot, Rockford answered right back. Maybe it was what was on the line, or maybe that’s just how the Warriors prefer it, but whatever it was, they got it done.
“This is what the kids have been working for all year,” Rockford coach Bob Engels said. “We just knew the team that wanted it the most was probably going to win it. It’s awesome but we’re not done yet; we’ve got another one to go.”
Rockford came out with that energy from the outset as three 3-pointers in the first quarter, including two by Bushbaum, helped it to an 11-8 lead after 1.
The Warriors built off that to take an eight-point lead into halftime, up 29-21, but Osage, which had its own designs of winning out for a conference championship, wasn’t about to give in.
Led by all-state guard Drew Olson, the Green Devils came out of the break with a 7-0 run to bring them within a point, down 29-28, but Rockford answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Kaden Lyman and Jake Staudt.
This back-and-forth continued throughout the remainder of the game, and every time Osage got close or took the lead, Rockford responded right back.
Olson knocked down two-straight 3s late in the third to put the Devils up 41-40 and then 44-42, but the Warriors scored the final seven points of the quarter, including a fadeaway at the buzzer by Bushbaum to send them to the final quarter with a 47-44 lead.
Olson had 27 points after three quarters for the Green Devils, but he was saddled with his fourth foul early in the fourth, and fouled out with 2:11 to play.
“We had kind of the same situation over at West Fork the other day so it was nice we’d been in that situation before,” Osage coach Mike Brahn said. “We had a nice comeback when he was out with foul trouble there, so we were a little bit more comfortable having seen it before.”
The lead traded hands three times midway through the fourth, and Osage had it tied 56-56 with just under a minute to play, but Rockford held on and made its free throws down the stretch to scoreone of its biggest wins of the year.
“When they hit a shot or went on a run — basketball is a game of runs so we know they’re going to get theirs in once in awhile, and we know the crowd was going to get into it. They were awesome,” Bushbaum said.
“I haven’t beat them since I’ve been in high school, so that’s a big deal. They’re a good team, Drew Olson is a heck of a player — one of the best players in the area — but it’s awesome. I love it.”
Bushbaum led the Warriors with 21 points and Staudt added 17 points off the bench. Both Staudt and Kaden Lyman, who added 12, were key in the second half for the Warriors.
With Newman winning on Tuesday night, the Knights and Warriors are tied for the conference lead with three losses apiece. Rockford hosts North Butler on Friday while Newman has St. Ansgar at home. A win for either team guarantees at least a share of the crown.
Even after a big win over Osage, Rockford isn’t celebrating just yet.
“We’ve still got to take care of business Friday,” Bushbaum said. “I’m not going to mark that down as a win yet. They played us pretty close last time at North Butler so I’m not going to say anything until we beat them on Friday.”