Moments after a 57-48 victory over Oak Grove Friday night at Grain Valley High School, something happened that had the fans buzzing – and nodding with approval.
The host Eagles, who used a 17-4 first quarter as a springboard to the Missouri River Valley Conference win, emerged from the locker room and approached their longtime rivals.
Players from each team exchanged jerseys, snapped photos and spent a few minutes talking about the game.
“They’re our biggest rivals,” said Grain Valley forward Josh Quintrell, who scored 12 of his team-high 22 points in the second quarter, “but we respect them – and really like them. I have so much respect for Jaxon (Althaus) and Dylon (Pfeifer) and those guys. We hang out with them – but when we step on the court, it’s all business.
“You saw that tonight. We want to beat them as much as any team we face, but after the game is over, we’re all friends posing for pictures and talking and stuff.”
Althaus, who led all scorers with 24 points, agreed.
“Our problem all year has been coming out slow, and we knew if we did it tonight against a real good Grain Valley team we’d be in trouble,” Althaus said. “But we like the guys on Grain Valley’s team. We respect them and have fun when we play them. We didn’t have much fun in the first quarter, but we at least made it respectable at the end.”
Following the 17-4 first quarter performance, the 10-8, 2-2 Panthers matched the Eagles point for point, taking a 44-40 scoring edge over the final three periods of action.
“It’s something we’ve addressed, worked at it practice and never really accomplished in a game here lately,” Panther coach Ty Hames said, “and against a good, quick team like Grain Valley, if you dig a big hole, you’re not going to climb out of it. And that’s what we did tonight.
“But I liked what I saw from our guys – they never gave up. We worked so hard. Our freshman, Eli Wyckoff, had a nice game, and Jaxon carries us. I just hope the guys realize, especially after tonight, that we’re not always going to find a way to get down early and fight back. Tonight, it killed us.”
While Hames was pondering a way to get out of the first quarter with a lead, Eagles coach Andy Herbert was celebrating with his young sons, who couldn’t wait for dad to come out of the locker room.
“This is always such a big game, and with the doubleheader, Coach Draper’s big win and celebration, and the band, our great student section and everyone from Oak Grove and Grain Valley here tonight, it was very special,” Herbert said, after the Eagles improved to 14-4 and 4-0.
“This was one of those games where everyone played a role. Dylan Meredith did a great job finding the open man and Josh and Jake (Salisbury) were great inside. The atmosphere, the win – it just doesn’t get much better than this.”
Salisbury, who finished with 11 points, agreed, “This is one of those nights, one of those games, you remember for the rest of your life. We got a big win, and then we got to go over and talk to those guys and wish them luck the rest of the season.”