There was a point when the Oak Grove girls basketball team lost 31 games in a row to Missouri River Valley Conference West rival Grain Valley, a streak which happened over a seven-year period before this season.
However, thanks to the efforts of Summer Collier and Emily Heldenbrand, the Panthers earned their second win over the Eagles this season following a 63-44 decision Wednesday at Grain Valley.
“I think winning two in a row might be even bigger than our first win, because this win shows the first wasn’t a fluke,” said Heldenbrand, who finished with a game-high 22 points. “We came over here tonight talking about how we can get it done, how we can beat them again. We were really confident, and we played like a confident team.”
Oak Grove held a 17-9 lead after one period, but trailed 24-23 at the half on the strength of a 15-point second quarter by the Eagles.
Collier, who had a 3-pointer in the first period, hit back-to-back treys to give the Panthers their first lead at the 4:18 mark of the third period (27-25). She followed with a third 3-pointer to help Oak Grove score 20 third-quarter points en route to a 43-31 lead going into the final eight minutes of play.
“We talked at halftime about what we needed to do to win the game, and come out strong in the third quarter was the main thing we wanted to do,” said Collier, who finished with 14 points. “We knew we had to have a strong offensive showing in the third period, and we were able to score a lot of points. We were able to hold them down, and that led to a big win.”
The win was extra special for Oak Grove head coach Jared Broughton, who played for girls coach Randy Draper when he created a MRVC West powerhouse with his boys program in the early 2000s.
While Broughton owned a previous win over his mentor on the Panthers’ home court, he had never won at his alma mater.
“I played basketball here, and I know how hard it is for an opposing team to come in here and win,” said Broughton, after his Panthers improved to 10-13 overall and 4-5 in the conference. “With the band, the student section, the great support from the community, this is one of the toughest places in the conference to win.
“And it’s even tougher to win when they lead at the half. But what I like so much about my team is that our girls never panic. We went into the half, talked about what we needed to do and came out and did everything we talked about.”
When asked about the halftime preparation, Heldenbrand quipped: “Coach told us to get our (act) together, and we did. We got it together and played some of our best basketball all season. That third quarter was pretty amazing with Summer hitting all those threes and our defense holding them to just seven points.”
Broughton said his team could not have picked a better time to play its best basketball, as district play begins Saturday on the Panthers’ home court.
“We’re really coming together as a team,” Broughton said. “We’re working hard in practice, and it’s showing in our games. This game was really special, not just because we beat Grain Valley on their court, but because we want to play our best basketball at this time of year.
“We want to play well so we go into district with a lot of confidence.”
While the Panthers are on a roll, the Eagles (12-11, 4-5) are looking for a way to gain some confidence heading into the postseason.
“We’ve had so much success over the years, we know what we have to do to come back and win some games in districts,” said Eagles senior center Maddie Knust, who finished with just four made free throws. “We just didn’t play well tonight – and Oak Grove had a lot to do with that.
“We had a big crowd, the band was here and we were all excited about the game, but we just didn’t play well. We’ll get back to work at practice and be ready for districts.”
Tatum Dunham scored 12 points for the Panthers.
Kendra Sibert led the Eagles with 13 points, followed by Keely Hill with 10 and Sydney Williams with eight.