KEARNEY, Mo. – Trey Bryant knew the ball was coming to him.
The Oak Grove senior was worried Thursday's semifinal game could be his last game, but the 6-foot-5 center made his biggest shot of his career to get at least one more game in the black and orange.
Eli Wycoff dribbled through the paint and dished off to Bryant, who banked in a shot at the buzzer to give Oak Grove a 49-48 come-from-behind win against Kearney in the Class 4 District 14 semifinals at the Kearney Fieldhouse.
The Panthers overcame a 13-point second-half deficit and earned a spot in tonight's district championship game. Oak Grove (20-5) draws last year's state runner-up, Raytown South (18-8), at 5:30 p.m. in rematch of last year's district finals.
That spot in the finals was in doubt from the start – Kearney opened on a 9-3 run – but Bryant's only basket of the second half capped a feverish fourth quarter rally.
“It was definitely surreal,” said Bryant, who finished with 10 points. “When I saw him drive, the first thing I thought was I was getting it. I've been doing it all year. Eli loves to dump it down to me and when I saw him go, I knew I needed to get ready to catch it.”
Bryant recalls the clocked showed four seconds when he glanced last, but he got the dish on the right block and put up a shot. The ball fell through, the buzzer sounded and he was mobbed by his teammates.
“That is the single best shot I have put up,” said Bryant, who made two key free throws in the fourth as well.
The last player to exit the locker room, Bryant walked back on the floor and had a group of nearly 50 Oak Grove fans who waited around to cheer for the hero of the game.
The Panthers were down 29-16 when the third quarter started and trailed 37-31 when the fourth started. A 6-1 run was capped by a layup by Tully Thomsen with 2:03 left to tie the game at 40.
Kearney (10-16) got a 3-pointer from Decker Hanson on the next possession to regain the lead it held from the start. After two free throws from Bryant, Kearney got four straight free throws from Gavin Frizzell to take a 46-44 lead with 49 seconds left. The Bulldogs missed two free throws with 30 seconds left that might have sealed the win and that opened the door for a drive through the lane by Thomsen, who made it with 20 seconds left to make it 47-46. He finished with a game-high 19 points.
The first lead for Oak Grove didn’t last long as Brennan Watkins hit a jumper with 9 seconds left to make it 48-47. The Panthers called a timeout and seconds later, Bryant made the game-winner.
“It ended up being a real good game in the fourth. It was back and forth and that is what you get this time of the year,” Oak Grove coach Ty Hames said. “We were up 23 against Grain Valley and lost and that really taught us a lot. The game is never over and if all you want to do is take it possession by possession, you can cut it down. It is easy to play from behind. It is hard to play from ahead. We weren't good, but the last five minutes, we were really good.
“We knew it would happen. When we had to make a play or had to make a stop, these kid were able to execute and they didn't stop believing.”
RAYTOWN SOUTH 66, VAN HORN 53: The fourth-seeded Falcons didn't back down from the challenge of facing a Cardinals squad that has been a state qualifier the past four years and a quarterfinalist three times in that stretch.
Van Horn (13-13) got into a slugfest early and led 20-19 after the first quarter but fell behind 36-32 at halftime.
Jaden Monday had a 3-point play to open the second half to pull the deficit within one and his layup with 5 minutes remaining tied it at 37. He finished with a team-high 19 points and accounted for 11 of the Falcons' final 15 points.
The Cardinals started to pull away over the final four minutes of the third quarter and led 56-43 going into the fourth. Raytown South had the lead up to 15 at one point in the final frame.
“I thought we played a complete three quarters and in the fourth fatigue got to us playing only six guys,” Van Horn coach Max Sollars said. “We had a couple calls not go our way, but we played and we played our second best game of the year outside of our game against Odessa on Monday.
“I think if we had stuck with it for all 32 minutes, we would've come out on top. I'm at a loss for words. Our kids have gotten so much better and I think next year we can play at this level.”