The path was set.
At 11-8, the Otis-Bison High School boys’ basketball team entered the Class 1A Division-II sub-state bracket as a No. 3 seed.
The seeding set up an uphill battle where the apparent underdogs, the Cougars, would have to best the likes of No. 8-ranked, No. 2-seeded Chase and No. 1-ranked, No. 1-seeded Wilson.
However, according to Otis-Bison head coach Alan Clark, anyone calling the Cougars underdogs didn’t realize one thing, their regular season record is a little deceiving.
“We knew we weren’t underdogs,” Clark said, “but I don’t think anyone else did. Our league, (Central Prairie League), is very competitive. We played teams like Macksville, which is in the state tournament. Ness City is in our league, and they’ve been ranked in 2A most of the year. La Crosse is also a 2A school that we played this year.
“Plus we started the season in the Larned tournament with teams that were 2A and 3A, and the Hoisington tournament had 2A and 3A schools in it.”
The Cougars won all three of their sub-state games in Hays to advance to the state tournament, which will start on Thursday at Fort Hays State University. The Cougars begin their run at a state championship against Fowler at 4:45 p.m.
Just how slanted is the Cougars’ record?
“In our own class, we are 7-1,” Clark said. “That one loss was against Wilson at the very beginning of our season. We started practicing late because our football team went so far in state.”
Also, the Cougars were missing one of their top scorers, senior leader Michael Hlavaty, who entered the season with an injured ankle he got during a football game.
As the No. 3 seed, Otis-Bison began its post season with a first-round win over the winless Western Plains, 75-25.
That win set up a Friday-night meeting with Chase, which averaged about 51 points per game this season. Otis-Bison topped them 49-27.
“We played La Crosse three times this season,” Clark said. “La Crosse has Marcus Moeder, who is probably one of the fastest point guards around here. Dylan Wissman covered him for all three games. If you can cover Moeder for three games, you can cover anyone. He is quick. That is why we were able to hold Chase and Wilson to so few points.”
So the Cougars advanced to sub-state championship at Felten Middle School in Hays on Saturday night.
Wilson was the No. 1 team in Class 1A Division-II with a 19-1 record. Otis-Bison lost to the Dragons on Dec. 3, 61-48.
After the first half, the Cougars held a 29-11 lead.
“On the offensive end, Michael Hlavaty really stepped up for us in the sub-state tournament,” Clark said. “(Dominic) Trapp hit three 3s on Wilson in the first quarter. They came out in a diamond one on Hlavaty and Trapp just killed them.
“They switched to a zone defense pretty quickly and we started to drive the ball inside on them.”
Hlavaty finished the game with 19 points. Trapp and Wissman each joined him in double figures with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
“Defensively, Trevor Keller did a tremendous job covering Kenny Steinly,” Clark said. “(Brandon) Pechanec was on Jake Stoppell all night. I think Stoppell finished with 17 points, but I think he had eight or nine going into the final quarter.”