It’ll take time for Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert to get over Grain Valley’s 58-45 loss to Liberty North Saturday night in the Class 4 District 15 title game.

It’ll take time for Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert to get over Grain Valley’s 58-45 loss to Liberty North Saturday night in the Class 4 District 15 title game.

The loss at Oak Grove High School ended Grain Valley’s season, a season Herbert will probably remember fondly for years to come because of the players he coached.

“They do things the right way and they’re a great group of kids,” Herbert said. “I could not be prouder of any team we’ve ever had.”

That group included five seniors: Luke Bailey, Tanner Griffin, Dillon Helsper, Lucas Williams and Aaron Winter. During their four seasons at Grain Valley, they “put their heart and soul into” the program, Herbert said.

“To see them graduate is tough,” he said. “I told them, ‘This group of seniors stands for everything I believe in as a coach.’ It’s hard to see them go.”

It might be tough for the seniors to leave. Winter – who led the Eagles with 17 points Saturday – said they all faithfully followed Grain Valley boys basketball “as little kids,” said Winter, who led Grain Valley (21-6) Saturday with 17 points.

“We went to every single home game,” he recalled. “We even went to away games, and we were 8.”
Besides their longtime bond with the program, the seniors have developed a bond with Herbert.

“He does a great job with it (the team),” Winter said. “He cares about every single one of his players … just like they’re his family. He’s a great coach.”

Until early in the fourth quarter, it appeared Herbert would get to coach his special team for at least one more game. After playing Liberty North to deadlocks of 14-14 after one quarter and 23-23 through halftime, Grain Valley broke a 25-25 tie with a 7-0 third-quarter run. Liberty North answered with a 12-0 burst that began about midway through the quarter and ended early in the fourth period.

Grain Valley never led again.

Liberty North coach Chris McCabe attributed the run to team composure, something he said the team had lacked in its overtime loss to Oak Grove in the 2011 district title game.

“We told them there was going to be this ebb and flow in the championship game with a team that’s won 21 games,” McCabe said. “And we know how good they are. We respect them.”

Winter attributed Grain Valley’s inability to rally to a sense of hopelessness.

“I don’t want to say it, but like four minutes (left), they were up by 10 and we thought our season was over,” Winter said.

Liberty North (21-6) made it a double-digit ballgame about midway through the fourth quarter. Grain Valley briefly cut the margin to 48-39. Liberty North then nudged the lead back to double digits and kept it there to advance to face Savannah in Wednesday’s sectional at Liberty High School.

“This time of year, it’s hard to win, and we just didn’t do enough to win,” Herbert said. “And that’s a credit to Liberty North.”

“We won 21 games and won the conference (Missouri River Valley Conference West Division title),” Herbert said. “And a lot of good things happened this year. We can’t let one disappointment ruin all that.”