Going into the 2018-19 season, Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert said he knew it was going to be more challenging.
After all, the Eagles were going to be playing at the Class 5 level in the postseason and were going to compete against Suburban Small Seven Conference opponents for the first time after leaving the Missouri River Valley Conference.
Friday’s regular-season finale against Raytown South was an example of the steep challenges Herbert’s team faced this season. The host Eagles jumped out to a 10-5 lead but the Cardinals outscored them 69-33 the rest of the way in a 74-43 conference loss.
Grain Valley appeared to make it competitive after taking a 15-14 lead at the end of one period. Junior forward Josh Kilpatrick made a cutting layup in traffic off an assist from senior Kevin Gutierrez to make it 17-14. From there, the Cardinals went on a 19-4 spurt that was sparked by South junior Mark Cann, who scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the quarter. Not only was his jump shot on point, but he threw down a pair of fast-break dunks that ignited his team and allowed it to take a 33-21 halftime lead.
“That got our guys on the bench happy and got me really happy,” Cann said of his dunks. “I wasn’t doing anything in the first quarter. In the second quarter, I got hot and my teammates got me hyped. My shot was feeling really great.”
Herbert said those dunks appeared to take the wind out of the sails of his Eagles (15-10, 7-5).
“We shot out of a cannon in the first quarter and played well,” Herbert said. “Then they went on a run after Cole (Keller) got his second foul. Then the back-to-back dunks broke our spirits and we were out of sorts the rest of the night.”
Raytown utilized a zone press in the third period and started to run away with it. The Cardinals forced seven of Grain Valley’s 20 turnovers in the frame. They began the quarter on a 13-6 run in which five different Cardinals scored. They shot a blistering hot 9 of 16 from the field, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc, in the period.
South took a 57-36 lead in the fourth and cruised from there. The Cardinals even forced a running clock on a pair of occasions after going up by 30. Herbert pulled most of his starters early in the fourth and sat the rest of them in the final three minutes.
“They are extremely athletic and they are physical,” Herbert said of Raytown South. “It’s hard to do a lot of things against a team like that. You just have to play through contact and not worry about it. It’s a learning process.”
The Eagles will now turn their attention to the Class 5 District 14 tournament. They will be the No. 5 seed and will face No. 4 Blue Springs at 7 p.m. Monday at Truman High School.
“The jump to this conference and Class 5 in the same year is a lot to ask,” Herbert said. “But getting 15 wins is something to be proud of. Hopefully, we’ll get a district win or two or maybe even shock the world.”
Kilpatrick led Grain Valley with 14 points and Keller added 10.