In the third quarter, Smithville displayed the quick-strike offensive ability of a dangerous postseason opponent.
Platte County junior guard Jarett Mueller made sure the Warriors didn’t have a real chance to push for the upset Tuesday night. Having gone without a field goal in the first half, Mueller scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter, and the Pirates pulled away for a 75-58 victory in a Class 5 District 16 semifinal at Platte County High School.
With the win, Platte County improved to 20-5 — the first 20-win season for since the 2005 season. The Pirates entered the postseason off of a non conference loss to Belton in the final game of the regular season but quickly recovered to reach this first milestone while seeking just the third district title in program history.
“We just figured out a way, slow start in the first half but then we just grinded through, grinded through,” Mueller said. “We’re back to where were playing at the beginning of the season, which is really well.”
Platte County advances to host Kearney (12-9) in the district championship game Thursday night in what will be the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. Platte County won the first and third of those meetings, but the two recent matchups, including Kearney’s win, were extremely close.
“It doesn’t matter. It could be Kearney, that’d be fun,” Mueller said while still unsure of the opponent. “But it’s just the district championship. Whoever it is, we have to beat them, take it home.”
Similarly, Platte County played Smithville for a third time and ended up recording two victories over the Warriors in a span of a week. The Pirates took the most previous matchup a week earlier that resulted in earning a share of the second Suburban Conference Blue title in program history.
However, Smithville’s earlier win this season provided the blueprint for another potential upset — get out in front and shoot well from the outside.
Platte County avoided the scenario this time around and never trailed, taking a 32-26 lead into the second half. Mueller immediately opened with a 3-pointer, his first field goal to that point, to set the stage for his big half. Pirates senior guard Jaden Burnett then added baskets on consecutive possessions, converting a three-point play on the second, but Smithville kept finding answers to stay within nine.
Mueller hit another 3 to push the lead to 47-37 — double digits for the first time — and drew a foul on the play only to miss the free throw and chance at the four-point play. Smithville would then score four straight to get as close as six but would end up trailing by 10 or more for the majority of the final 12 minutes.
A mid-range jumper on the right baseline from Mueller pushed the lead back to 51-41, and Platte County senior forward Joey Schultz added a 3 moments later to make it 54-43. Mueller’s third and final 3 made it 57-43 and prompted a Smithville timeout with exactly a minute left in the third quarter.
“I saw that first (3-pointer) go in, and I got a little bit of confidence and then teammates finding me,” Mueller said. “The ball just moved really well the whole game.”
Smithville would get a pair of baskets in the final minute to get back within 10, but Platte County senior reserve guard Daunte Alaiwat hit his second 3 of the game early in the fourth. Pirates senior Alex McClure then hit his fourth 3 of the game to finish with 14 points, and Mueller’s acrobatic three-point play late finished up his scoring and provided the exclamation point on the victory.
Platte County coach Rick Hodge cleared his bench late. Schultz totaled 13 points, while Alaiwat had seven and junior Brody Fulk six off the bench.
McClure provided the early offense with a 3 to put Platte County up 5-1 and another moments later to make it 8-5. Alaiwat hit his first 3 as part of a quick 8-3 run, but Smithville would respond with a prolonged 8-2 run that tied the score at 16-16 early in the second quarter.
However, McClure ended the first half with three of his 3s, while a 3 from Burnett sparked an 8-0 run that gave Platte County the lead for good. Mueller had seven in the first half, all on free throws.