Early 3-point barrage lifts Van Horn into district final

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner

Van Horn coach Max Sollars kind of rolled the dice when it came to preparing for the Class 5 District 14 semifinals.

The Falcons had earned the No. 1 seed and awaited the winner of Kansas City East and Winnetonka. Sollars believed the latter would beat a one-win team, so his squad started watching game film on Winnetonka four days ago.

That prep work paid off thanks to an early barrage of 3-pointers that led to a 66-44 victory Tuesday at Van Horn High School.

Van Horn drained 13 3-pointers in the win, but 10 of them came in the first half to help build an insurmountable lead against the Griffins.

“We knew coming in playing their diamond-and-one (defense) if we get past that first level, that second person is ready to shoot,” Sollars said. “We drilled it all week and they bought in. Normally a one-pass shot isn’t the best, but you get into the gaps and shoot, you can have success and we did. We drilled the hell out of it and we had practice Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The kids bought in.”

The Falcons (16-9) didn’t just have one person hot from the 3-point line. In the first quarter, the team’s five 3-pointers were spread out with Darius Ross, Jeremy Paige, Brycen Dean, Kayleb Jefferson and Jaden Monday all hitting one.

Van Horn led 19-11 after the first quarter and then Paige got hot in the second quarter. The junior hit three 3-pointers and sandwiched between his second and third was a trey by Monday. That barrage was followed by an offensive rebound and putback by Sean Mitchell to make it 36-20.

Winnetonka (6-17) got a 3-pointer from Johnell Essex with two seconds left to make it 36-23 at the break.

The first half featured 10 3-pointers, two layups and two free throw conversions for Van Horn.

The third quarter started with a 3-pointer by Dean, part of a 14-2 run for the Falcons. The Griffins were held to only one basket through the first seven minutes of the quarter, including a scoreless streak of more than 4 ½ minutes.

The largest lead was 24 points for the Falcons and allowed minutes for underclassmen late.

Paige added a 3-pointer before he exited for the night with 15 points on five 3-pointers.

“We have just been in the gym working on mechanics a lot and shooting,” Paige said. “We are always in the gym. We are all gym rats.”

Van Horn had three players score in double figures, led by 20 from Monday. Alex Morales added 10 points. Dean finished with nine on three 3-pointers.

Sergio McCullough led Winnetonka with 15 points, while Essex had 12.

Van Horn hosts William Chrisman, a 51-47 winner over Lincoln Prep, at 6 p.m. Friday for another chance at a district title. Last year the Falcons lost 60-57 to Lincoln Prep in the district championship.

Now, they play a Chrisman team they beat 61-57 on Dec. 18, snapping a 10-game losing streak against the Bears. A win would send the Falcons to the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

“We are feeling a lot stronger this year and Chrisman, they are our rivals,” Paige said.