The streak is over and the monkey is off the back of the Oak Grove High School girls basketball team.
The end of a 31-game losing streak to longtime rival Grain Valley – that dates back to 2004 – meant a King Kong-sized monkey jumped off the back of coach Jared Broughton’s girls, who rallied from a 28-24 third-quarter deficit to top the Eagles 43-36 in front of a standing-room-only courtwarming crowd Friday at Oak Grove.
What made the win even more special for Broughton is the simple fact that he played basketball for coach Randy Draper at Grain Valley. The iconic Eagles coach later switched over to the girls team and finally had to shake hands with his pupil following a loss.
“You know how much I respect Coach Draper,” Broughton said, as he was hugged and pounded on the back by what seemed like every Panther fan in the gymnasium. “I knew it was going to happen someday, and I’m so thankful it happened tonight with so many of our fans here to see it.
“But you need to go talk to our girls. They’re the ones who made it happen. They’re the ones who worked so hard this week – I had to literally kick them out the gym every night they were working so hard in preparation for this game.”
And the hard work paid off as they hit a remarkable 16 of 17 (94 percent) of their free throws, including 10 of 10 in the deciding fourth quarter and 14 of 14 in the second half.
“We did work hard on our free throws this week,” said junior guard Emily Heldenbrand, who hit all four attempts and a big jumper to give the Panthers a 35-33 lead they never relinquished at 3:27 of the fourth quarter.
“Early in the year, if we hit 2 of 50 we were happy – we just weren’t very good at the line. Now, we take a lot of pride in our free throw shooting. We’re all so happy; we hope this is the start of something big for our team.”
So does teammate Elisabeth Heckman, whose 3-pointer and two free throws gave the Panthers some breathing room late in the game.
“This feels like a dream that none of us want to end,” Heckman said. “We are so proud to be the team to end the streak.”
Lilli Weir, who grabbed four of the biggest rebounds of her life late in the game, said she was pleased to find a way to contribute.
“I wasn’t scoring that much, so I decided that we weren’t going to let them get any big rebounds,” Weir said. “Once we got that lead, we weren’t going to let them get back in the game.”
The Panthers used a balanced scoring attack with Bailee Martin leading the team with 10 points. Weir, Heckman, Heldenbrand and Tatum Dunham all scored eight each.
“Everyone knows about the streak and how it goes back to 2004,” Martin said, “and we have worked so hard to find a way to end it. Tonight, we worked hard, hit our free throws and got a lot of inspiration from our fans. It was a great atmosphere tonight.”
Grain Valley guard Kendra Sibert said the loss will motivate the Eagles for the remainder of the season.
“No one wanted to be on the team that loses the game that ends our streak against Oak Grove,” Sibert said, “but we’ll get to play them again and we’re all going to remember how bad we feel tonight and how we don’t want to feel like this again.”
Brittney McKay led the Eagles with 11 points and Keely Hill and Sibert finished with six each.