Top-seeded Blue Springs Wildcats end Eagle's basketball career

By Bill Althaus

As Cole Keller walked off the court Tuesday night at Blue Springs High School knowing that he had played his last game as a member of the Grain Valley Eagles, he paid the Wildcats and coach Adam Jones the ultimate compliment.

“That’s a great team with a great coach and I want them to go all the way and win the state championship,” Keller said after the Wildcats used a 24-point second quarter to fuel a 77-54 victory in the Class 6 District 14 semifinals.

The Wildcats will host Raytown at 7 p.m. Friday in the championship game.

“It makes us look better if they go all the way – and they have the manpower to do it,” Keller added. “(Ike) Ezeogu is a man out there, (Braden) Appelhans must have spent some time in a lab because it seems like he grew a foot in a year, and (Eli) Wingert is all arms and legs and knows how to find the basket.”

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Blue Springs guard Kyle Bruce (2) tries to knock the ball from the grasp of Grain Valley's Keagan Hart in their Class 6 District 14 semifinal Tuesday at Blue Springs High School. The host Wildcats claimed a 77-54 win to advance to Friday's championship game against Raytown.

And all three Wildcat stars – especially Wingert with a game-high 24 points – did their best to make life miserable for Keller, who coach Andy Herbert calls “maybe the best player we’ve ever had in our program” and entered the game averaging a double-double.

And that is the ultimate compliment, because the three-sport star, who says he will join the baseball team for practice Wednesday, was The Examiner’s Offensive Player of the Year in football, as he passed and rushed for more than a combined 2,000 yards.

“He’s so strong,” Wingert said of Keller, who has signed to play quarterback at Division II Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. “He might be the strongest player I’ve gone against this year, but we were able to keep him down for a while, but we have to find a way to stop the 3-point shots when we play Raytown.”

Keller scored a team-high 14 points, including two 3-pointers, and the Eagles finished with 12 3-pointers and just five 2-point baskets.

Grain Valley senior forward Cole Keller (35) gets a hug from assistant coach Ryan Adams and Brian Rowland after he checks out of the game in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's Class 6 District 14 semifinal at Blue Springs. Keller scored 14 points in his final high school basketball game but the Eagles fell 77-54 to the top-seeded Wildcats.

“We slowed Keller down, but no team is going to stop him, he’s such a great athlete and competitor,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said after his team improved to 18-5. “But we can’t give up 12 3-pointers to Raytown or we’re in trouble. I knew they hit a few, but I thought we really played well, especially in that second quarter.”

Grain Valley led 15-13 after one quarter with Keeton Maxon, Nick Hopper, Owen Herbert and Avery Garmon all hitting 3-pointers.

“That first quarter fired us up,” said Wingert, whose 24 points included 10 in the 24-point second quarter. “They’re a good team, and they came over to win, but when we play like we played tonight – like a team with everyone knowing exactly what they have to do to win – we’re a hard team to beat.”

Blue Springs senior John Ammons (21) drives to the hoop for a layup over Grain Valley's Owen Herbert in Tuesday's Class 6 District 14 semifinal. Host Blue Springs claimed a 77-54 win and a berth in Friday's championship game against Raytown.

Appelhans, who finished with 16 points and four 3-pointers, agreed and added that junior guard Kyle Bruce, who finished with eight points, was doing the little things to help the Wildcats win.

“KB means so much to our team, he got us going in the second quarter – he dove for a ball, batted it to me and I hit a three and that got us going,” he said.

And the Wildcats never lost that momentum.

“They’re a great team,” Eagles coach Andy Herbert said after his team wrapped up a 10-14 season after starting 1-8. “The way these guys have grown as a team is so special. They are a bunch of misfits who walk out on the court and finally found a way to fit together and become a pretty darned good team.

“And they had Cole to look up to and follow as a leader, and he did such an amazing job all season. It’s tough to tell him goodbye, but we’re all looking forward to seeing what he does in college.”

Herbert’s son Owen finished with 13 points for the Eagles. 

Mike Harrison added 17 points for the Wildcats.