The Grain Valley boys basketball team has made a statement before each one of its games this season.

The Grain Valley boys basketball team has made a statement before each one of its games this season.

It starts the second after the Eagles’ opponent’s starting lineup has been introduced when all 12 Grain Valley players find a seat on the bench. Once senior Lucas Williams’ name is called, all 12 make their way onto the floor.

The routine was adopted by Grain Valley’s five seniors – Williams, Tanner Griffin, Dillon Helsper and Aaron Winter – and the message is clear. This group doesn’t want individual adulation. The Eagles just want wins.

And they’ve gotten 21 of those so far, after Thursday’s convincing 57-39 Class 4 District 15 semifinal win over Oak Grove at Oak Grove High School.

“We don’t really believe in the individual recognition,” said Griffin, who notched game-highs of 20 points and nine rebounds and also swiped five steals. “... This year we’re more of a unit. We just want to go out there, pump ourselves up and get ready to play.”

That mentality is what Grain Valley coach Andy Herbert identified as the biggest key to a season in which the Eagles (21-5) have bagged a Missouri River Valley Conference West title and will have a shot at a district crown Saturday against Liberty North (20-6). It’s also what convinced most of the squad to shave their heads during a recent school assembly to benefit child cancer awareness.

“Our whole team thought it was a good idea to support that cause,” Griffin said. “And also, a whole basketball team with shaved heads might be kind of intimidating and look kind of cool.”

It was more the Eagles’ defense that was intimidating Thursday. Playing their typical aggressive 1-3-1 zone, they forced the Panthers (18-8) into 22 turnovers and poked away 18 steals while holding Oak Grove leading scorer Eric Gant to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

“It’s kind of like our offense,” Herbert said. “It’s a team effort. They all do their job the way they’re supposed to and that’s what makes it click.”

It was a disappointing finish to a spectacular senior season for Gant, who scored in double figures every game this season and averaged 19.7 points per contest.

“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever coached and he’s the best kid I’ve ever coached,” Oak Grove coach Ty Hames said. “You come to Oak Grove to coach kids like that.”

The Eagles scored a knockdown early with a flurry of transition buckets in the first quarter to take a 16-9 lead. The margin increased to 31-20 by halftime and the Panthers never pulled to within single digits.

And after the teams split a pair of regular-season games decided on last-second shots, Grain Valley claimed the rubber match of the Four-Mile War emphatically.

“We came out with intensity and were ready to play,” said sophomore Daniel Mahurin, who provided 12 points off the bench. “We knew what they were going to do, they knew what we were going to do and we just executed.”

Williams added 10 points, six steals and four boards for the Eagles and Winter finished with nine points.

“This is what we’ve done all year,” Herbert said. “Nobody cares who gets the credit. They just want to win games. They play hard and they all get along. You don’t see high school-aged kids this mature very often. It makes it a lot of fun for us.”