Jan. 26—DES MOINES — Conference games on the road are never easy.
The Ottumwa basketball teams found that out on Thursday night at Des Moines North. The Bulldog girls needed a late rally to avoid suffering their first Iowa Alliance Conference south division loss, scoring 12 of the final 15 points after the Polar Bears took a 33-32 lead midway through the fourth quarter securing a hard-fought 44-36 win completing a sweep of North after winning 48-27 in Ottumwa last month.
The Ottumwa boys, meanwhile, could not come back after falling behind by 18 points in the first half against Des Moines North. The Polar Bears overcame a career-high 31 points from OHS junior Trae Brown, using a 33-point first quarter to jump start an 86-72 win over the Bulldogs completing a regular-season sweep after holding off OHS, 57-54, at Evans Middle School Gymnasium back on Dec. 8.
"We came out slow and didn't play like we have been," Ottumwa head boys basketball coach Neil Hartz said. "We got it going and outplayed (North) over the next three quarters."
Brown scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half, including 13 points in the final seven minutes. Ottumwa cut the lead to 75-67 with under four minutes left before a turnover led to a breakaway lay-up by Amos Poe giving the Polar Bears a double-figure lead that North would maintain for the rest of the game.
Rahsha Pope, dealing with foul trouble, was shut out in the second half after scoring 11 points in the opening 16 minutes for Ottumwa. Parker Derby added 10 points for the Bulldogs.
Wisdom Fode led a balanced attack for the North boys, scoring 18 points as the 10-4 Polar Bears joined Des Moines Roosevelt back atop the Iowa Alliance south division standings with a 7-1 conference record. Five players reached double figures in scoring for North.
The Ottumwa girls, meanwhile, jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter before Mariah Van Ersveide rallied North scoring 11 of her game-high 23 points in the first half. The Polar Bears cut Ottumwa's first-half lead down to 20-14 before 3-pointers by Alli Goedken and Miya Fuller in the final minute of the second quarter pushed the Bulldog advantage to 26-14 at halftime.
Unlike the first meeting between the teams back in December in Ottumwa, North was able to rally in the second half cutting the Bulldog lead to 32-27 by the end of the third quarter. Missed free throws and turnovers stymied Ottumwa early in the fourth quarter, allowing North (3-11, 2-5 Iowa Alliance) to score the first six points of the final period taking a 33-32 lead with 5:10 left on a pair of free throws by Nyakan Malual.
Goedken gave Ottumwa the lead back after an exchange of turnovers, sinking a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the OHS bench to put the Bulldogs back up 35-33. Van Ersveide tied the game on a lay-up with 4:21 left, scoring what would be North's final field goal of the game as a turnaround jumper by Hunter Caldwell with four minutes left gave Ottumwa the lead for good.
North cut the lead to 37-36 at the free throw line and had the ball with a chance to regain the lead. Caldwell, who finished with a team-leading 14 points for the Bulldogs, collected a steal that would end North's last chance to take the lead before Camdyn Crouse converted a traditional 3-point play as part of an 11-point effort putting OHS up 40-36 with 2:53 left.
"We had to battle. We struggled in some areas that made it closer than we wanted," Ottumwa head girls basketball coach Joe Vandenberg said. "We made some uncharacteristic mistakes and paid for them.
"The girls battled and fought back. Credit to North. They are much improved. It's a tough place to play when they get going."
Both the Ottumwa girls (9-2, 6-0 Iowa Alliance) and the Bulldog boys (6-4, 2-4 Iowa Alliance) will be back in action on Saturday afternoon at Evans Middle School Gymnasium hosting Burlington in a varsity doubleheader. Action begins with the varsity girls contest at 1 p.m.