by John Unrein
One word can be used to sum up the Grain Valley Eagles win against the Clinton Cardinals on Tuesday, January 14th. That word is hustle. The Eagles Boys Basketball team would stretch a 16-10 lead at the end of the first quarter into a 66-39 victory in their opening game of the 95th annual Pleasant Hill Boys Basketball Invitational.
The hustle that defined Grain Valley’s win was a team effort. Seniors AJ Salisbury, Caden Matlon, Josh Kilpatrick, Gavin Oyler, and Seth Dankenbring were all active in providing contributions in helping to assure the outcome. Salisbury is becoming a swiss army knife for the Eagles, capable of fulfilling many roles for the team.
“All of us played our tails off tonight. Coming off the North Kansas City loss last week we wanted to turn the page and play our best. We as a team found a good rhythm tonight moving the basketball and finding who’s open,” Salisbury said.
“My teammates have really good court vision. We were unselfish tonight in moving the basketball and it paid off. Doing that allowed us to have fun and win the game.”
The tools that Salisbury is continuing to develop in his repertoire of shooting, passing, rebounding and defending are padding the stat sheet as well as his team’s confidence. Salisbury would score 17 points, contribute 9 rebounds, 5 steals, and 1 assist on a night that saw himself and the rest of Grain Valley’s starters head to the bench with four minutes left in the final quarter with the outcome secured.
Eagles Boys Basketball Head Coach Andy Herbert is not surprised by Salisbury’s growth or the effort he put forth in the team’s win.
“AJ is our band aid guy. He’s the one that not enough people talk about, but when you look, he’s typically doing something good. He doesn’t say much and he’s a tough nose kid that plays the game the right way,” Herbert said.
“He’s (Salisbury) a great cutter without the basketball and our guys did a good job finding him in open spots tonight. That unselfish play was part of the formula for our win.”
Matlon and Kirkpatrick were active in creating offense for the Eagles when screens and ball movement did not yield open shots against Clinton’s man to man defense. Matlon weaved through defenders driving the lane for contested layups. Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick would drift from the post to the arc in locating open looks at the basket. Both would finish with 14 points.
“Matlon created a lot for us in the second half. He wasn’t his typical explosive self tonight. He got banged up in practice yesterday. His IQ allows him to see things happen before they develop on the court. We have guys that have played together for so long that they know what the other one’s going to do and that contributes to our success,” Herbert said.
Dankenbring and Oyler divided five fouls among them in avoiding the Cardinals having easy scoring opportunities. Their hustle on the defensive end of the court for the Eagles allowed them to play sound man to man defense for much of the game.
Herbert reflected on where his team is at during this point of the season.
“I thought last Friday (against North Kansas City) we took a step. Every year there’s a game where you see things click for your team. I thought last Friday in our loss we figured some things out that we will need moving forward,” Herbert said.
“The chemistry and comradery that have always been there were solidified through the adversity we faced. This is a good and tough group that like each other and that matters as it can’t be replaced. I don’t know as a coach if your ever completely where you want to be, but we are in a pretty good place right now moving forward.”
Senior Gavin Olyer attempts a shot in the post.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Senior AJ Salisbury attempts a free throw.
Photo credit: Valley News staff