Josh Kilpatrick and Caden Matlon are two sophomores who have been friends, and played basketball together for such a long period of time.
They have a sixth sense on the court, finish each other’s sentences and know their respective roles when they come off the bench for the Grain Valley boys basketball team.
In a stranger-than-fiction battle for the Missouri River Valley West Conference title, Kilpatrick and Matlon finished with 22 points off the bench to match the entire offensive output for visiting Oak Grove in a 45-22 Panthers victory that gave coach Andy Herbert’s team a 21-3 overall record and MRVC West-best 8-1 mark and at least a share of the conference title.
However, weather permitting, the Eagles have to travel to Pleasant Hill tonight while the 17-6, 7-2 Panthers play host to Excelsior Springs on Senior Night.
“I’ve never been a bigger Pleasant Hill fan in my life,” quipped Oak Grove coach Ty Hames, a good friend of Herbert and an admirer of the Eagles program. “I’m wearing my Roosters shirt to school on Thursday.”
A Pleasant Hill upset victory and a Panthers win over Excelsior Springs leaves the two longtime rivals tied atop the conference with 8-2 records.
“We know what we have to do to win conference, and we’re going to enjoy this win tonight and then get ready for Pleasant Hill tomorrow,” said Kilpatrick, who came off the bench and hit a long 3-pointer to jump start the Eagles offense in the first period.
As Matlon nodded in agreement, he added, “We’ve played together for so long, we know what each other is going to do in the game. That’s why I think we’ve had a lot of success coming off the bench together. Today, Josh hit the long threes.”
And Kilpatrick quickly added, “And Caden drove to the basket and hit those layups. That’s just how it worked tonight. We feel so confident playing together, we like coming off the bench and helping the team any way we can.”
Hames had to scratch his head when asked about a game in which his team had 21 turnovers and just 22 points when Jaxon Althaus averages 26 points himself.
“We’ve scored 70 or more points in three of our last four games, and Jaxon opened the game with that 3-pointer and we didn’t have another 3-pointer all night. It was just one of those crazy games. We didn’t have school today, but we had a great practice and we came over here ready to play – at least, I thought we were ready to play.
“Obviously, we weren’t – and that’s all on me. I take total responsibility for the way we played tonight. A coach should have his team better prepared for the biggest game of the season and I didn’t do that tonight.”
The low-scoring affair saw Grain Valley lead 11-9 after one period and 16-13 at the half. The Panthers never scored in double figures in any quarter and were outscored 18-6 in the third quarter as the Eagles grabbed some momentum they never lost.
“What a surreal game,” Herbert said, as Eagles fans congratulated him following the game. “You had two teams who know everything about each other – and I mean everything. What it came down to was execution, and we did a better job of it than Oak Grove did tonight.
“The first half was pretty much what I expected, a real battle, a real tough first half. But did I expect to hold them to 22 points for the game? No way! We played great defense, but I know Ty will tell you they missed some shots they usually hit. And Dylon Pfeifer isn’t going to go scoreless in many games. It was just a weird game that we worked really hard to win.”
When asked about his depth, and the roles Kilpatrick and Matlon played in the win, the veteran coach smiled from ear to ear.
“I’ve never had a team with this much depth,” Herbert said. “I can sub three, four, five players at a time, and that is such a luxury because you keep everyone fresh. Josh came off the bench and hit that big three when we needed some early offense and Caden hit some layups and had some big steals in the game.
“It was a weird game to coach, because Oak Grove never really got into any offensive flow. We’ll take it, though, and now we have to go take care of business at Pleasant Hill on Thursday to win conference outright.
“And we might see Oak Grove again in district at their place. It’s such a great rivalry, and I know Ty will have his kids ready to play if we see them again.”
Hames proved he had not lost his sense of humor when he talked about the disappointing loss on his son Owen’s ninth birthday.
“When Owen asks about his birthdays, I’ll tell him I’ll never forget this one,” Hames said, “not because of celebrating his birthday, but because of the way we played. Sorry son, hate to have a loss like this on your big day.”
Kilpatrick and Matlon led the Eagles with 11 points each and Andru Garrett finished with nine.