by John Unrein
A jubilant Eagles bench ran onto the court to celebrate after the final seconds ticked off the clock. Senior Cole Keller blocked the final shot of the game for his team with four fouls and against a full court shot attempt that would have sent the shooter to the line for three shots, with Grain Valley clinging to a two point lead. Keller and Jayden Yung yelled and flexed their arms with big smiles on their face at the conclusion of the game.
The Grain Valley boys basketball team under the direction of head coach Andy Herbert had just finalized a big Suburban Conference win against the Truman Patriots by a score of 53-51 on February 20th. The joy continued off the court as the Eagles could be heard celebrating inside a classroom outside of the gymnasium at Truman High School.
The win was extremely rewarding for Herbert, who felt a wealth of emotions run through him as the buzzer sounded at the end of the contest. Fundamentals, situations, and how to win by finishing basketball games has been consistently taught in practice and learned on the court during varsity games this season for the young Eagles. A resilient roster with only three seniors has accepted coaching and has applied lessons learned to become a formidable opponent as the Class 6 District 14 Tournament approaches on February 27th.
Making the memory of the victory that much more cherished by Grain Valley is that they played two games within 24 hours of each other. The Eagles had lost the night before to William Chrisman by only two points.
The sting of a game they had led for three quarters prior to seeing it slip away at the end would test the mettle of Grain Valley as they traveled back to Independence with limited rest. Tired legs did not become apparent for the Eagles until the third quarter when they found enough in the proverbial tank to push through to be on the winning end of a two point victory this time around.
“I’ve never had the emotion run through me that I did when the buzzer went off tonight. I don’t know why other than I’m proud of our toughness. We responded with grit to the late game pressure to come out ahead,” Herbert said.
“If you rewind back to our early games this season and how far away we were, we were not close to playing like this tonight. You cannot ask any more out of a group of kids to do more than they did this week.”
Herbert continued, “Cole (Keller) is a warrior. There has to be a better word for it, but I don’t know what it is. The relentless way he played tonight is special. He’s played close to 96 straight minutes in three days. It is not a normal 96 minutes either, as Cole has endured people hanging on him. The role of shot blocker, rebounder, helping us beat the press, and don’t forget scorer has been fulfilled by him.”
Keller would finish with 23 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, and 3 blocks. Joining Keller’s stellar effort were guards Yung and Owen Herbert. Yung’s stat line included 8 points, a rebound, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Yung was a difference maker down the stretch as he blew past defenders on double on ball screens set by Keller and Herbert at the top of the lane. Yung’s ability to keep his shoulders square as he approached the basket on drives produced solid scoring opportunities.
Herbert found his typical comfort zone behind the arc in draining a quartet of three pointers. Grain Valley looked inside out during the third quarter with the attention that Keller was drawing in the post. Herbert was the recipient of opportunity and he delivered. His favorite shooting spot on the court continues to be a 45 degree angle away from the basket on either side of the goal.
“I have seen too many YouTube videos of people throwing up shots like the last one of our game and making it. I was not going to take that chance and attempted the block. It worked out and we won the game,” Keller said.
“I wanted to develop a presence in the post during this game so that we could get Owen (Herbert) going outside and support Jayden (Yung) on the drive. This win was night and day difference from where we were at the beginning of the season. Heck yeah, I am proud of the grit we showed.”
Yung added, “This is my first year playing point guard. I have always been a wing. Truman played tight on us with the ball pressure they showed. Coach (Herbert) calling for the double high ball screen gave me room to maneuver and get to the basket.”
“This feels great. Having played this many days in a row means a lot to come out of here with a win against a good team like Truman.”
(Owen) Herbert finished, “Cole in the post draws significant attention. The shots I made tonight are the same ones I attempt with our machine in practice. It gets me ready for the inside out ball movement we executed on the court.”
“This team refused to let three games in a row on consecutive days against Suburban Conference teams be an excuse of any kind.”
The Patriots themselves produced two double digit scorers. Najee Williams and Maddux Bristow each racked up 14 points in the loss. The athleticism and confidence displayed by Williams and Bristow continues to highlight why they have been a force in pushing Truman to a 17-6 record under the leadership of head coach Rod Briggs.
Grain Valley moves to 7-13 with contests looming against Belton and Odessa prior to the Class 6 District 14 Tournament starting on February 27th.
Left to right: Senior Jayden Yung, Senior Cole Keller, and Sophomore Owen Herbert.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Senior forward Cole Keller attempts a free throw. Photo credit: Valley News staff
Sophomore guard Owen Herbert drains a three pointer along the baseline.
Photo credit: Valley News staff