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Eagles fend off Fort Osage's second-half rally

By Michael Smith
The Examiner

Even after his team got off to a strong start and seemed to control Friday's game, Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert wasn’t comfortable at all.

His Eagles led Fort Osage 27-10 at halftime, and at intermission, he shared his prognostication with his team.

“I said, ‘Two things are going to happen. They are going to start making shots and they are going to turn the heat up on you defensively,’” Herbert said.

Herbert’s foresight was on point as Fort Osage made a furious comeback in the second half, but thanks to the clutch shooting of Owen Herbert and a big defensive play from Cole Keller, Grain Valley held on for a 45-43 Suburban Middle Six road win.

Fort Osage’s full-court pressure and hot shooting from 3-point range allowed it to narrow the gap to 35-29 in the third period. The Indians ramped up the pressure using a mixture of a zone and man-to-man press to fluster the Eagles. That defense helped force Grain Valley into seven third-quarter turnovers.

The Indians also reversed their offensive fortunes in the third as they shot 5 of 6 from beyond the arc, with Trent Hogland and Arthur Wyatt making two treys apiece. Wyatt’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer sliced the lead to six.

That hot shooting carried over into the fourth with Hogland and Braden Pottberg each hitting a 3-pointer to tie it 35-all with 4:33 left. During that stretch, Grain Valley (3-9, 1-2 Middle Six) missed three field goals and two free throws.

Owen Herbert finally stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer to put Grain Valley back up 38-35. A few possessions later, with Fort Osage down 40-37, Hogland tied it with a pull-up 3-pointer from 5 feet behind the arc.

Herbert then responded with another 3 of his own to put his team up 43-40 before a Pottberg finger roll layup from the baseline made it 43-42 with about 50 seconds left.

Nick Hooper and Herbert each made 1 of 2 free throws down the stretch, attempts which were sandwiched around a free throw from Pottberg.

“I have been working really hard on my shot and getting it down,” said Owen Herbert, who finished with 11 points. “I work on it before and after practice. I do that so I can be confident in a game and when I shoot it, I want to know it’s going in.”

Added his father, Andy Herbert: “You need some in those situations, when all (heck) breaks loose, to right the ship somehow. He was able to do that.”

Herbert’s final free throw came with 23.2 seconds left, which made it 45-43. On the Indians’ last possession, Zekiah Tucker missed a 3-pointer from the left corner, but Pottberg got the rebound. The Fort Osage senior immediately went up for a putback attempt, but Keller swatted his shot away. Keller retrieved the rebound and ran to the other side of the court to run out the clock for the win.

“He does so much for us, like rebounding and scoring,” Andy Herbert said of Keller, who also finished with 19 points. “The biggest thing is (Keller) didn’t foul (Pottberg). He went straight up with two hands, a very fundamental play. Most people go up and try to put up the exclamation point and end up fouling (the shooter).”

Keller, who had a distinct size advantage against an undersized Indians team, made an impact in the paint on offense and defense.

“My team expects me to make that play every time,” Keller said of the game-saving block. “I knew for a fact that we had an advantage down (in the post). I wanted to establish that so I could get my shooters open later in the game.”

The second half was a remarkable turnaround for the Indians (3-6, 0-3 Middle Six) after scoring just two points in the first and eight in the second. In the first half Keller dominated with 15 of his game-high total.

“We lost the game in the first half,” Fort Osage coach Josh Wilson said. “We didn’t play with the same fire and tenacity that we came out with in the second half. They were in a 3-2 matchup (zone) and we settled for some not good shots.

“We got back into it because of our pressure on defense, and we have to do that because of our lack of size.”

Hogland led Fort Osage with 14 points and Wyatt added 13.

Girls

GRAIN VALLEY 65, FORT OSAGE 26: After the Eagles surrendered 17 points in the first quarter, they ramped up the defense, only allowing nine points the rest of the way in a blowout victory.

Grain Valley (8-3) led 28-17 at the end of the first quarter and pushed the lead to 39-18 at halftime. The Eagles went into the fourth with a 55-23 advantage and cruised the rest of the way in the fourth.

Grace Slaughter led the Eagles with a game-high 35 points, with 23 coming in the first half. Her teammate, Jordyn Weems, added 16.

Katelyn Ward led Fort Osage (2-6) with 12 points, which all came on 3-pointers.

“I am really proud of our progress,” Fort Osage coach Lindsay Thompson said. “Despite the score, we got better tonight. We saw some things that have been missing for a few games.”