The semifinal game of the 21st annual Sonic Showdown at Grain Valley High School left the fans begging for more.
One official also felt that way, as he grabbed his jacket off the scorer’s table Thursday night and said, “These two teams should play each other every game the rest of the season. And I’d like to officiate each one of them!”
The two teams he was talking about were the host Eagles and longtime rival Oak Grove, which claimed a 55-54 victory and a berth in Saturday’s championship game.
When the official’s comments were relayed to Eagles coach Andy Herbert, he grinned and said of his longtime friend and Oak Grove coach Ty Hames, “I don’t think Ty or I would live through that. The games are just too intense.”
In an earlier game this season at Oak Grove, the 9-8 Eagles edged the Panthers 65-63 on a buzzer-beater by Josh Kilpatrick.
“There were so many lead changes, ups and downs. It was just your typical Oak Grove-Grain Valley game,” Herbert added. “The intensity in our gym was amazing. Their fans were here, our fans were here and it got pretty loud and exciting.
“It’s a tough game to lose, but I don’t have anything to complain about. Both teams competed – and I mean really competed out there. We just came up a couple of points short, and we had our opportunities.”
In a physical contest, in which the officials allowed both teams to play, neither team was in the bonus in the closing minute.
Gavin Richardson, who did not have a point in the game until the 1:09 mark of the fourth quarter, hit a layup and was fouled. He made his free throw to give the Panthers a 55-53 lead.
“I don’t care if I score a point if we win,” Richardson said. “But I was happy to hit that free throw because it gave us a little breathing room. But this shouldn’t be about me, this was a team win – a great team win.
“Everyone played a role in this victory, and the only way you beat a great team like Grain Valley is when you play as a team.”
The Eagles brought the ball down court and Kilpatrick was fouled on a jump shot. He hit one of the two free throws, making it 55-54.
The Eagles had to commit three quick fouls to send a Panther player to the free throw line. They fouled Trey Bryant with five seconds left.
The big center, who scored a school-record 51 points in the Panthers’ first tourney game against Van Horn, missed the free throw, giving the Eagles the ball.
The Panthers, who also had two fouls to give before reaching seven, committed two quick fouls before the Eagles got the ball to Kevin Gutierrez, a quick guard who drove to the paint and got off a 12-foot jumper that lipped the rim of the basket and fell to the court.
“I’m usually the guy getting the ball to one of our big scorers,” said Gutierrez, who was consoled by friend and teammates after the game. “I got a good shot, and when I let the ball go, I thought it was in.
“I’d have liked to have made that shot. That would have been cool. But even if we lost this game, we played hard and I’m proud of everyone on this team.”
Hames agreed with Gutierrez, congratulating players from both teams.
“Your typical Oak Grove-Grain Valley game,” said Hames, whose Panthers improved to 13-2. “What a great game. Andy’s kids play so hard and our kids play hard, too. At the end, we didn’t want Kilpatrick or (Cole) Keller to get the ball.
“Kevin’s a great player for them, and he just about won the game for them with that last shot. We needed to do a better job guarding him, but we got the win and I couldn’t be prouder of this team.
“We’re in a championship game of a tournament for the second time this year (they won the Husker Classic at Lafayette County High School) and we’re looking forward to Saturday.”
The Panthers take on 13-2 Fort Osage at 2:30 p.m. at Grain Valley High School.
Bryant led the Panthers with 16 points, Tully Thomsen and Brenden Marsh added 14 each and Ely Wycoff scored 10.
Kilpatrick led the Eagles with 17 points, followed by Caden Matlon’s 13 and Keller’s 10.