by John Unrein
The 6th seeded Grain Valley Eagles boys basketball team successfully defended their home court in the Sonic Showdown tournament opener against the 3rd seeded Barstow Knights. The Eagles would pull away from their opponent during the fourth quarter for a 58-47 win. Grain Valley head basketball coach Andy Herbert emerged from the locker room after the game with water spots covering his blue Under Armour pullover.
“I got a shower and returned the favor. It was a celebration in the locker room that was well earned. Everyone who played in this game did something to help us win. That is why this is a team sport,” Herbert said.
Among the Eagles putting forth a stellar effort in securing the victory were Cole Keller, Keagan Hart, and Owen Herbert. Keller’s 28 points, 16 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and 4 blocks cemented his team’s triumph, and was the second game in a row the senior would deliver a double-double. Keller found a way to stay aggressive on both ends of the court despite picking up two early fouls.
Herbert did not let his occasional early misses from behind the arc halt his confidence as the game unfolded in continuing to hoist long range shots. The sophomore guard continues to display a keen understanding of floor spacing beyond his years in finding open spots on the floor after maneuvering through traffic on the court. Eleven points, including a trio of three pointers and two made free throws late in the game capped Herbert’s successful night.
Hart exploded in the fourth quarter to slow down Barstow senior point guard Connor Arment in helping to hold him to 14 points. The Eagles free safety in football did not shy away from contact defensively. Hart consistently went underneath the screens set by the Knights at the top of the key in their pick and roll offensive set to limit Arment. Adoration from his teammates was abundant for the Eagle sophomore upon exiting the locker room. Hart would finish with 6 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
“I picked up two (fouls) early, knowing that I usually play significant minutes, I understood that I would need to be cautious. You can still be aggressive. You just have to pick and choose your moments. I continue to focus on finishing offensively in the post through both shoulders,” Keller said.
Herbert added, “In the past, I would stop shooting after missing a few. I am encouraged by coaches though to keep shooting. I can tell now by feel how my shot is going. I’ve been watching these games (the Sonic Showdown) for a lot of years and it’s awesome to be on the good side of the bracket after one game.”
Hart concluded, “My role is as a defensive player on this team. Coach Herbert told me in the fourth quarter to go pester the heck out of number 23 (Connor Arment). Having five fouls to do that with made it a fun assignment.”
Grain Valley was strategic under Herbert’s discretion in using an eight man rotation during the game to stay fresh during the second half. The judgment paid dividends as the halftime score was knotted at 23 apiece.
Herbert was vocal from the sideline in providing instruction on beating the full court press. It was the second game in a row that an adversary would try to create turnovers and instant offense through defensive intensity. Senior point guard Jayden Yung was more aggressive with the dribble in getting across the half court line then he was previously against Fort Osage. The difference was notable in permitting the Eagles to get into their offensive sets with more fluidity.
“It seemed like Cole got to every loose rebound in the second half. Keagan did a great job slowing down their offense late in the game. His intensity and confidence were special, including a back cut layup and the steal and finish he had,” Herbert said.
“All we have talked about since last Friday night was defeating the press. You cannot wait to get trapped and Jayden (Yung) did a good job tonight understanding when to continue with the dribble and when to throw it. We finally got guys in the right place in the second half to catch it, which helped a lot.
Grain Valley moves to a 4-9 record on the season with a win each of their last two games. The Eagles continue play in the Sonic Showdown tournament at 7:00pm on January 28th.