by John Unrein
Eight consecutive made free throws by the Grain Valley Eagles Boys Basketball team at the end of their Class 4, District 14 Tournament game proved they had ice water running through their veins.
Seniors Josh Kilpatrick and Caden Matlon, along with Junior Jayden Yung, were perfect from the charity stripe during the last minute of the game in not allowing Pembroke Hill to chip away at the Eagles lead. Their effort would fuel the Eagles fourth quarter come from behind victory by a score of 62-53 against the Pembroke Hill Raiders on Monday, March 2nd.
Matlon would lead all scorers with 26 points. The three point touch from behind the arc continues to return for Matlon at just the right time for the Eagles. Matlon’s preferred spot to do damage from long distance came from the baseline near Grain Valley’s bench on three of his four made three pointers.
Three rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals would round out Matlon’s efforts for the evening. Matlon would emerge from the Eagles locker room after the game with Junior Cole Keller, and both were excited to talk about their team’s will to overcome the deficit they surpassed in their win.
“The start of the game was about trying to feed other people who were open like Cole (Keller). He gave us some big buckets early on. When it was my turn, I made the most of it,” Matlon said.
“Those were the biggest free throws we had all season at the end of the game. Especially, with Jayden (Yung) being newly initiated to varsity basketball and coming through the way he did.”
Keller added, “We knew Pembroke Hill was athletic. That was going to make us need to play help defense when we were in man to man. That dude (Junior Guard Liam Weaver for Pembroke Hill) is a very good basketball player. I didn’t want him to score.”
Weaver was the Raiders’ leading scorer with 22 points. Most of that came from behind the arc or on drives to the hoop for Weaver. Keller helped to slow Weaver’s momentum by rejecting two of his shots in the second half under the basket.
Keller’s return to the court after rehabbing from a knee injury sustained during the football season continues to help the Eagles. Keller’s busy night netted 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Grain Valley Eagles Boys Basketball Coach Andy Herbert was proud of the determination demonstrated by his squad.
“Free throws are something that every team obviously works on. We take pride in it as a team. Practice typically concludes with us having to make six free throws in a row. Nobody leaves until that happens,” Herbert said.
“The ones made by Caden (Matlon) and Josh (Kilpatrick) were important. The two though that Jaden Yung made at the end, to take us from up two, to up four points were huge.”
Herbert finished with his thoughts on Keller, “Cole changes the game in so many ways. One of those is his ability to change and effect shots. We’ve struggled at times this year rebounding the basketball. His return has helped with that as well.”
The Eagles patience with the adjustment they made offensively at the start of the second half also paid dividends toward their win. Grain Valley sent cutters through the middle of Pembroke Hill’s zone defense. The result was the basketball being worked inside out and swung across the perimeter for open looks that helped the Eagles turn the tide.
“Having five guys on the floor for us with great court vision, playing unselfishly makes the outcome of tonight possible,” Herbert said.