Maddie Knust and Lexi Allen enjoyed their moment center stage Friday night at Grain Valley High School.
But with the final seconds ticking off the clock, it was reliable senior Claire Rose who helped the Eagles claim a 34-33 overtime victory over longtime Missouri River Valley Conference West rival Oak Grove.
After missing a free throw with 3.5 seconds left, Rose hit the second to help the Eagles improve to 14-2 overall and 4-0 in league play.
“Before Claire shot that free throw,” Eagles coach Randy Draper said, “I told our girls to be ready to play defense and not foul for the final three seconds. We all knew she was going to hit the second one.”
Allen and Knust scored the lone baskets of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, as the Eagles overcame an early 15-8 deficit.
Oak Grove led 21-16 at halftime but Grain Valley came out strong in the third period to take a 27-25 lead into the final quarter.
Neither team could take command in the fourth quarter, and the game went into overtime tied at 31.
Lindy Cox hit the Panthers’ lone basket early in the overtime period to give the Panthers their final lead of the game, 33-31.
That’s when the Eagles went to work.
With 3:39 left in the five-minute period, the Eagles ran more than a minute and a half off the clock and Knust, who nailed the big jump shot in the fourth quarter, hit nothing but net on two free throws at 1:21 to tie the game at 33-all.
After an errant Panthers’ shot at 1:12, the Eagles ran down the clock and everyone in the gym knew who would be in charge of the ball.
Rose, who hit a layup and free throw to help the Eagles claim a come-from-behind win over Odessa earlier in the week, drove for a layup with three seconds left in the game and was fouled.
She uncharacteristically missed the first free throw, but hit the second.
“I tell people all the time to enjoy Claire Rose, because we may never see anything like her again,” Draper said.
The Panthers managed to inbound the ball to midcourt, and call timeout. They had just over a second left when they took a long 3-point shot that fell far off its mark.
“I’ve never been as proud of my teammates as I was tonight,” said Rose, the 5-foot-3 guard who was the target of more than two Panther defenders most of the night. “Oak Grove wasn’t going to let me do much offensively, and my girls came through tonight.”
Allen, a senior who has gained playing time because of injuries to two starters, made possibly the biggest basket of her career to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the only shot I have confidence in,” said Allen, who recently signed a letter to run cross country in college. “I’m not good at dribbling the ball and I had to dribble a lot tonight.
“And I’m not a very good shooter, but I have faith in my short jump shot and I was able to hit it. I’m so glad I did.”
When asked about Rose then hitting the winning free throw, Allen grinned and said, “That’s what Claire does. Everyone knew she was going to hit that second free throw and win the game for us.”
Knust shared Allen’s confidence.
“I’ve had a lot of confidence in my free throws this season,” said Knust, who finished with a game-high and career-high 12 points, “and we all have confidence in Claire when she’s at the line. With Kendyll (Bailey) and Brittney (McKay) out with injuries, we’ve all been forced to take our game to the next level – and we were able to do that tonight.”
Panthers coach Jared Broughton, who played basketball for Draper when he was the Eagles boys coach, came up with a defense to stymie Rose, but the fiery team leader’s teammates rose to the occasion.
“It’s a box-and-one where he basically has his team go every direction Claire goes,” Draper said of Rose, who was limited to seven points.
Broughton, who was visiting with Draper at a post-game celebration for Draper’s 400th victory (Friday was No. 402), which happened earlier in the week, grinned, and said, “I had coaches lined up outside my door after we played you the last time. They wanted to see what we did to slow down Claire.”
Draper just chuckled and nodded in agreement.
“This was a big night for me,” said Draper, who hosted a post-game cake and cookie celebration in the commons area as relatives and many former players joined the standing-room-only crowd for the girls/boys doubleheader.
“You know, I’m a creature of habit. The little presentation (of a plaque) before the game, and things like that, well – I’d rather just play the game. But I appreciate everyone coming out and all the high school has done for me.
“This is a night I’ll always remember.”
Kaitlyn Marsh led the Panthers with 11 points.