Tears flowed and hugs replaced high-fives as the Grain Valley Eagles saw their season come to an end.
The Center Yellowjackets used a 9-5 advantage in overtime to hand the Eagles a heartbreaking 46-42 overtime loss Tuesday night in the Class 4 District 14 semifinals at Oak Grove High School.
The Yellowjackets scored all nine overtime points from the free throw line to get past a gritty and overmatched Eagles team that senior guard Seth Dankenbring best described, through some postgame tears: “We’re small, but we have big hearts!”
The Eagles led 37-35 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter as Dankenbring hit one of two free throws.
Center then ran the clock down to 18 seconds and 6-foot-6 junior guard Keyren Spiller, who led the Yellowjackets with 19 points, bulled his way through the paint to score the game-tying basket.
The Eagles could not get off the game-winning shot in the final seconds and the thriller went into overtime tied at 37.
The Yellowjackets hit seven of their first eight free throws and Grain Valley did not score until Cole Keller hit a layup with 1:34 left in overtime. It was too little, too late.
Center moves on to play Raytown South in the title game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“I am so proud of our guys,” Eagles coach Andy Herbert said after a long, emotional post-game session. “A free throw here, a bounce there and we might have won in regulation, but we battled and left everything on the court.”
Teary-eyed players left the locker room, and embraced friends and family members.
“That was as physical as any game I’ve ever played,” said 6-5 junior forward Cole Keller, playing just his third game since returning from a football related knee injury. “They started with that zone, then they went to man, and they were just so physical. But we never backed down. We gave it everything we had, it just wasn’t quite enough.”
Senior Josh Kilpatrick, who gave the Eagles a 3-point presence with three treys and 12 total points, agreed with Keller.
“It was physical – yeah, it was very physical,” Kilpatrick said after the Eagles finished with a 16-11 record. “They had that stacked zone, then went to man, and we had to work for everything we got tonight.
“I am so proud to go into battle with my brothers. I don’t even want to think about this being our last basketball game, I just don’t want to think about it.”
Perhaps no player worked quite as hard to get the offense going as senior guard Caden Matlon, who took three hard falls but still managed to lead the Eagles with 15 points.
“I’m pretty much exhausted, and I’m sore,” Matlon said. “My wrists really hurt and that last fall took a lot out of me. I’ve never had to work so hard to get going offensively as I did tonight.
“They’re so physical, and they’re a good team. We worked hard, and we just didn’t have quite enough to get the win. But I am proud to be a part of this team, to share this with my brothers.”
The Eagles led 10-8 after one period, trailed 18-17 at halftime but rallied to take a 29-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
They were just 8 of 16 from the line – with all of those free throws coming in regulation – and had three late steals in regulation, but could not convert any of the thefts into points.
“They were bigger and stronger than we were,” Herbert said, “but I never saw any intimidation from our guys. We kept battling and battling. I’m just proud of our guys.”