Falcons happy to have home court advantage for Class 5 state quarterfinal against Mexico

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Van Horn guard Jaden Monday, right, draws contact from Columbia Rock Bridge defender Caden Sartain as he goes up for a shot in a game earlier this season. Monday, who is averaging 22.5 points, leads the Falcons into Friday's Class 5 state quarterfinal against No. 2-ranked Mexico.

There wasn’t a lot of celebrating at Ruskin High School Tuesday night following Van Horn’s 69-55 sectional victory over the host Eagles.

“We were happy and all that,” said senior forward Sean Mitchell, “but we still have a lot of big games to play. This was a big win, but we hope it’s not our biggest win of the season.”

That could come at 6 p.m. Friday in a Class 5 state quarterfinal as the 18-9 Falcons host the 21-3 Mexico Bulldogs, the No. 2-ranked team in the Missouri High School Basketball Coaches Association state poll. 

Following the win over Ruskin, Falcons coach Max Sollars joked about not knowing anything about Mexico, but added, “Give me a call around 3 a.m. this morning and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

More:Guard duo of Paige, Monday spark Van Horn past Ruskin in sectional

And he lived up to that comment as he interrupted a film session to talk about the big game.

“I like that Mexico team because it reminds me a lot of our team,” Sollars said. “They run a lot of different looks, but we’ll be ready for all of them.

“They’re going to have to prepare for us, and we’re going to have to prepare for them, and it should be a great game.”

And every member of the Falcon family is thrilled that the game will be played in the team’s new fieldhouse gymnasium.

“Let’s be honest,” Sollars said, “a lot of the people who have been with us through the down times wouldn’t be able to go to Mexico Friday night, but they’ll be able to come to our place and cheer for a bunch of kids they have loved and supported the past four years.

“I don’t know if that will give us an edge, but I know the crowd will be on our side, and that never hurts.”

Van Horn guard Jaden Monday (11) discusses strategy with teammates Brycen Dean, center, and Jeremy Paige (4) in Tuesday's Class 5 sectional playoff at Ruskin. Paige (26) and Monday (23) combined for 49 points in the 69-55 victory.

Guards Jaden Monday (25 points) and Jeremy Paige (26) grabbed most of the attention following the win over Ruskin, but they were the first to point out – along with their coach – that the little things their teammates did added up to a big win.

“Man, what Sean (eight rebounds, three steals along with taking three charges) and Alex (Morales, 15 boards and four blocked shots) and Darius (Ross, who came off the bench and grabbed six rebounds) did – that’s what won the game for us,” said Monday, who averages 22.5 points per game, fourth best in the metro area. “None of us care about headlines, just wins. We’ve all grown up together, dreaming about going to state and that dream comes true with another win.”

Added Paige, who is averaging 12.6 points, four assists and four steals per game: “I’d trade a win for all the points I’ve scored. I just want to win. That’s all any of us want to do is win.”

They weren’t winning after the first quarter at Ruskin. But as they came off the court trailing 19-13 after the first period, Sollars greeted each player with a handshake and an encouraging word.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even think about us trailing because we got off some great shots, we were playing our game, dictating the tempo,” Sollars said. “I knew things were going to turn around in our favor – and I wanted our guys to know that, too.”

Monday grins when talking about his coach.

“We’ve both grown up a lot together the past four years,” Monday said. “He’s a lot more calm now than he was when I was a freshman, and I know I’ve grown up a lot. He’s our coach. We love him and he loves us. Man, we’re all pumped up for Friday night. We want to win this thing together.”

A win would give the boys basketball program its first state final four appearance – and second overall – since finishing as the state runner-up in 1983. The winner plays No. 1-ranked Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis or No. 5 DeSmet of St. Louis in the state semifinals at 3 p.m. March 18 at JQH Arena on the Missouri State University campus in Springfield.