The pressure to defend its Class 4A, Section 5 title and foul trouble for one of its star players gave Osseo's basketball team all kinds of fits Friday.
The Orioles (27-2) came into the game owning the state's No. 3 ranking and No. 1 section seed but struggled throughout their 50-40 victory against Champlin Park. With the victory, Osseo returns to the state tournament next week. The Orioles finished third last season.
"Sometimes the toughest one is the one getting you to the state tournament," Osseo coach Tim Theisen said. "When the expectations are that you're supposed to win, sometimes the kids feel a little pressure. I thought we were a little tight tonight."
A combination of Bridgeport Tusler's two early fouls and the defense of Champlin Park (18-11) further squeezed the Orioles. Tusler remained on the bench through much of the first half and scored two points.
"We needed to get to the rim, and that's what Bridge did in the semifinals at will," Theisen said.
Leading 23-17 at halftime, Osseo got a boost from Tusler. A running back on the football team, Tusler used his strong 5-11, 200-pound frame to get inside and solve the Rebels' defense. He scored two baskets to push Osseo's lead to 10 points.
"Getting to the rim is my strength," said Tusler, who finished with 11 points.
Senior DJ Hebert, who led the Orioles with 15 points, said of Tusler, "He's a junior, but I can honestly say I look up to him in some situations."
DAVID LA VAQUE