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Eagles can't sustain strong start against Jays

By Bill Althaus

For one satisfying and productive half, coach Andy Herbert’s Grain Valley boys basketball team accepted the challenge at Raytown High School and matched the Blue Jays nearly basket for basket.

“But you don’t win basketball games playing pretty well for one half, three quarters or three and a half quarters,” Herbert said after the Blue Jays exploded for 42 second-half points to earn a running clock and claim a 70-38 Suburban Middle Six Conference win.

“We learned tonight you have to play 32 minutes of good basketball to beat a team like Raytown. Cody (Buford) is a great coach and No. 25 (Aaron Franklin, who finished with 35 points) was a force on both ends of the court.

“We were right with them when it was 14-14 after the first quarter, and they led 28-23 at the half, but we were still right there. Then, they just came out in the third quarter and dominated.”

The Blue Jays took their first double-digit lead at 5:47 of the third period when Noble Cromtpon stole the ball at midcourt, hit a layup and was fouled. He hit the free throw and Raytown led 35-23.

That was just the start as Raytown went on a 16-0 run to build a comfortable 44-23 lead. The Eagles’ first third-quarter basket came when senior forward Cole Keller hit a layup at 3:06.

“They’re a great team and No. 25 is a load,” Keller said as he walked to the team bus, maintaining social distancing the entire way to the lobby outside of the gym. “But I love playing against a guy like that because it makes me a better player.

“Playing against No. 25 makes me a better football player and a better baseball player and, of course, a better basketball player because you have to compete at the highest level to go after him. They’re a great team, and we’re young.”

Keller finished with a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds.

“I guarantee you, all the sophomores on our team are going to remember this game, and what they have to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And people talk about all our young guys being better in two or three years.

“I’m with these guys every day, and I see how hard they’re working and how hard our coaching staff is working and I can promise you we’re going to be better in two months,” Keller said. “In two years, watch out, but I want to see where we are in a couple of months because I love playing with these guys.”

Herbert is happy to have the help of Keller, who missed much of last season with an injury from football.

“I’m glad we have Cole out there,” Herbert said after his Eagles fell to 1-7 and 0-3, “because he’s a great player and a great leader. You see him talking to our young guys on the bench, pointing things out, those are the things you don’t see in a scorebook. We’re going to be fine, and we’re going to get better.”