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Late surge lifts Eagles past Barstow

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley senior Cole Keller goes up for a contested shot against Barstow's Michael Singleton (10) and Aldan Lawlor (21) in their first-round game in the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown Tuesday. Keller amassed 28 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Eagles to a 58-47 win over the Knights.

As Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert walked out of the locker room following a 58-47 win over Barstow in the opening round of the 23rd annual Grain Valley Sonic Showdown, he shook water out of his hair and sweater.

“That’s the first post-game bath I’ve had in awhile,” joked Herbert, as his Eagles playfully emptied their water bottles on their coach after improving to 4-10 with one of their best performances.

“I’ve seen a lot of these celebrations,” said the coach’s son Owen, a sophomore who finished with three 3-pointers and 11 points, “but this was the first one I ever participated in, and it was a lot of fun.”

After going into halftime tied at 23, the Eagles turned in a dominating fourth quarter with senior Cole Keller taking care of business inside while sophomore guard Keagan Hart turned up the defensive heat.

Grain Valley's Keagan Hart, right, puts up a shot against Barstow defenders Sam Christifano, left, and Luke Whitfill in Tuesday's game in the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown. Hart and the Eagles held off Barstow for a 58-47 win and a berth in Thursday's semifinal against St. Michael the Archangel.

Keller led the Eagles with 28 points and 16 rebounds and joked to his teammates as he came out of the locker room, “Just call me Windex because I wiped the glass clean all night.”

While he was the dominant force in the game, he was quick to praise his teammates, especially Hart.

“Keagan’s defense was the reason we got off to that great start in the fourth quarter,” Keller said of Hart, who produced two steals as the Eagles scored the first 10 points of the quarter to take a 47-41 lead. 

“Owen hit some big 3-pointers in the first half to take some of the defensive pressure off me inside and everyone played well. This is our best second half and one of our best games of the season.

Grain Valley senior forward Cole Keller (35) looks for an open teammate under pressure from Barstow's Aidan Lawlor (21) and Connor Arment (23) in their game in the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown Tuesday. Keller tallied 28 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Eagles to a 58-47 victory.

“Remember a week or so ago when I (said) all our young players were starting to play like veteran players? That’s what you saw tonight. You could see their confidence grow from one quarter to the next. It was awesome.”

Hart said many of his defensive skills come from having a nose for the ball – in football.

“I love to play defense – in football or basketball,” said Hart, a second-team all-conference defensive back. “I’m a sophomore and I’m not going to score a lot of points, so I want to do all I can to help our team win. Tonight, I was really proud of getting those steals and I even had a couple of layups. I’m a lot more confident than I was early in the season, and I think a lot of the younger guys on the team feel the same way.”

The Eagles advance to Thursday’s 7 p.m. semifinal against St. Michael the Archangel Catholic, which routed Oak Grove 83-36 to give coach Mark Scanlon his 700th career win.

“It’s exciting to go up against a legend and a very good team,” Andy Herbert said. “We’re playing well right now, and it will be fun to see how we do against a great team like St. Michael.”

Grain Valley's Avery Garmon (2) splits Barstow defenders Michael Singleton (10) and Aidan Lawlor (21) in Tuesday's game in the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown. The host Eagles won 58-47 to advance to Thursday's semifinals.