Outside help allows Eagles to survive Broncos, advance in district

By Bill Althaus

Lee’s Summit North coach Mike Hilbert spent hours watching video of the Grain Valley boys basketball team, preparing for their Class 6 District 14 matchup Saturday night.

“I knew if we could find a way to slow down Cole (Keller) – I don’t think any team can stop him – we’d have a chance,” Hilbert said.

He used a 3-2 zone that always had two players, and sometimes three, making life as miserable as possible for Keller, a 6-5 senior forward averaging a double-double with nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

That aspect of the game plan worked for the Broncos, as Keller scored a season low 10 points – but his inside presence opened up perimeter shooting for the Eagles, who hit their first four 3-pointers en route to a tough 45-41 victory.

No. 4-seeded Grain Valley now heads to Blue Springs to take on the top-seeded Wildcats in a semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“I’ve never worked as hard in my life as I did tonight,” said Keller, who was sporting the biggest grin as the Eagles emerged from the locker room to a standing ovation from their fans. “They had a great game plan. No. 20 (Jaden McGhee) is huge and No. 22 (Jeremy Moore) is so athletic, and there was usually another guy on me, trying to keep me from getting the ball.

“Man, when we started hitting those threes, I wanted to go out and hug our guys.”

Owen Herbert, the son of coach Andy Herbert, hit the first 3-pointer of the night and Nick Hooper followed with three in a row. The Eagles led 16-14 after one period and 25-22 at halftime.

Going into the fourth quarter, Grain Valley maintained a 34-31 lead and an unexpected hero provided the game-winning basket when Keeton Maxon nailed a long 3-pointer at 1:24 to give the Eagles a 44-41 lead.

“I was so excited when I hit that basket,” Maxon said of the lone basket he made in the game. “We all wanted to win tonight, but when we saw how hard Cole was working inside, it inspired us to make those 3-pointers and help him.”

Hooper, who finished with five 3-pointers and 15 points, agreed.

“Cole has led us in scoring all season, and tonight it was our turn to take some of the pressure off him,” Hooper said. “When we hit the four 3-pointers in the first period I felt like something good was going to happen.”

So did Andy Herbert, whose young Eagles improved to 10-13, and won their fourth game in a row.

“Owen hit the first three, and then Nick hit his first and I think that really set the stage for our guys,” Herbert said. “I’m so unbelievably proud of this team. 

“We’ve come so far. … We’re so much better than we were earlier in the season. And I’ve run out of adjectives on Cole.

“He got a huge board late in the game, hit a free throw, had a couple of blocked shots and came up with a steal to seal the win. You can’t do much more than that for your team.”

The No. 5-seeded Broncos finished 0-18, but Hilbert said it was just an honor to play this season.

“We had a lot of things happen, and I am not making excuses,” the veteran coach said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I will call this one a moral victory because our kids played their hearts out.”

Moore finished with a game-high 17 points and Mac Armstrong put on his own 3-point display, scoring 14 points with four 3-pointers for the Broncos.