Brody Fulk turned upcourt and gave an emphatic celebratory swing of his fist, nearly but unintentionally clobbering one of the officials in his defensive retreat.
Rarely overtly emotional, Platte County’s jack-of-all-trades senior forward dead-eyed a 3-pointer from the left wing and knew what the shot meant. So did most of those packed into Platte County High School for Tuesday’s Suburban Conference Blue Division showdown with Smithville. The Pirates’ lead finally looked safe as they pulled away to a comfortable 79-62 victory to wrap up a share of a second straight league title.
All five starters scored in double figures for Platte County with senior guard Jace Trimble turning in a career night with a game-high 21 points, while Fulk (15), junior forward Chandavian Bradley (14), senior guard Jarett Mueller (13) and senior forward Isaac Havemeier (12) all following behind in succession. Fulk scored five in the fourth quarter, and his biggest shot highlighted what became a game-sealing 8-0 run, even if it might not have been exactly the shot everyone wanted.
“I think the whole gym heard me yell, ‘No,’ and then I could just smile. That’s all I could do because that was pretty much the nail,” Platte County coach Rick Hodge said. “I think that emotion was directed right at me for telling him no, but you know what, we’ll take it.”
Other scenarios existed for Platte County (20-4) to earn its share of the Blue Division championship, but a win avoided any dramatics.
Conversely, Smithville also came in with a shot to tie for the crown. The Warriors missed their chance, and the result along with Ruskin’s home victory the same night over Grandview put the same two teams atop this year’s standings as in 2020-21. Ruskin swept Platte County in two meetings this year, but both teams went 10-2 in league play because the Eagles lost once each to Smithville and Raytown South.
Platte County had a chance to wrap up a piece of the title last Friday and put an outright title more in play but lost to Ruskin in overtime while dealing with a nearly absurd foul differential. The Pirates then led start to finish against Smithville in front of one of the largest home crowds, complete with raucous student section and pep band, in the program’s history.
“This environment is nothing like I’ve ever played in before,” Trimble said. “It’s amazing having the band out here, all the students, the parents out here supporting us, and this wins sealed us a conference championship with Ruskin. It was the same environment against Ruskin. Ruskin didn’t go our way, unfortunately, but to come out and get this win feels really nice.”
“What a tremendous atmosphere,” Hodge added. “The Platte County community brought it tonight, and we fed off of that tonight from the opening tip all the way to the end. I’m just so proud of this community and the support they’ve given us.”
Two days later, Platte County pulled away from Belton for another double-digit win that clinched a second straight 20-win season — just the second time in program history that has happened. The Pirates now take momentum as the No. 1 seed into the Class 5 District 8 tournament, opening at 4 p.m. Saturday against No. 8 Kansas City East (2-23) at Platte County High School in what could be the final varsity game ever played in the historic north gym.
Platte County went 3-2 down the stretch of the season, showing a penchant of losing big leads in both the wins and losses.
Smithville fell behind 18-4 after the first quarter but played nearly even from there, knocking down eight timely 3-pointers in the final 24 minutes to stay perpetually within striking distance. Platte County went up 18 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter only for Warriors senior Rhett Foster to convert back-to-back three-point plays and then a layup on an 8-0 solo run.
Foster had been scoreless to that point while battling foul trouble, and Smithville would close within nine twice after facing a nearly game-long double-digit deficit. The Warriors three times had a look at a 3-pointer that could have further whittled away Platte County’s lead in the key moments of the fourth quarter.
Smithville junior guard Ryker Edwards, who totaled a team-high 20 points, made a 3 with 4 minutes, 39 seconds to go in regulation to make it 65-55, but Platte County responded with its 8-0 run to fully take command with Fulk’s key 3-pointer coming around the 3-minute mark. The Pirates would then extend the lead out to 18 before Smithville coach Eric Bennaka emptied his bench with about a minute to go and allowing Hodge to do the same.
Platte County’s senior heavy starting lineup accounted for all but four points with sophomore guard Judah Vignery knocking down a pair of free throws and freshman Jaden Peterson adding a layup late but missing the free throw after drawing a foul.
“Just locking down on defense,” Trimble said. “Our defense came out really, really strong in the beginning, and we kind of go into this little lull sometimes. But we usually find our defense again, and we save ourselves and we get a run out of ourselves, too.”
Platte County came up with the dream start in a rivalry game, which felt like a near must-win situation in the regular season with the postseason looming even though the Pirates already had the No. 1 seed for districts locked up.
Havemeier scored the first four points then stretched that to 10-2 on a behind-the-back assist from Trimble to Mueller for a layup. Trimble then turned a steal into a breakaway layup. The Pirates were up 16-2, and junior reserve Parker Amos capped the first quarter with a heads-up outlet pass to Trimble for a layup at the buzzer.
Trimble and Bradley had six apiece in the momentous opening 8 minutes, while Edwards had just two as other Smithville players struggled to hit open shots.
“Chandavian did a good job of staying locked up on (Edwards),” Hodge said. “We rotated fresh bodies on him to keep someone fresh on him as much as possible. He’s a heck of a player. He’s a shooter; he’s a driver, and you’ve got to be accountable on both.
“I was very happy with our defense in the first quarter.”
Edwards, who tied a school record with seven 3s and totaled 37 points in the first meeting between the two teams, hit a 3 to open the scoring in the second quarter. That became an 8-0 run that pulled the Warriors back within six. They would be that close twice.
The final 3:49 of the half went back and forth.
Havemeier scored four straight again, and Mueller had a pair of 3-pointers in what became an 11-point half. Fulk’s first basket, a runner with 14 seconds left in the second quarter, briefly made it 38-22, but Smithville went into the break facing the same 14-point deficit it had after the first quarter.
Bradley picked up two early fouls but played some in the second quarter while avoiding the third in what became a key stretch for maximizing his playing time in the second half.
“And then Havemeier got his second, also, and when they’re both in foul trouble, yes, we get nervous,” Hodge said. “Those are our rim protectors. Those are the guys who are in the paint and allow our guards to get up and pressure a little more because they have that protection behind him.”
Mueller and Havemeier combined for 21 in the first half but scored just two each after the break.
That’s when Fulk and Trimble took over. Fulk had a breakaway layup and then the first of his two 3-pointers to answer a triple from junior Caleb Donnell (11 points). Trimble then pulled his trick of stealing the ensuing inbounds pass in a momentary lapse of attention in what has become the signature play of the feisty and fiery guard’s career.
“I love doing that. It’s an easy two points if they don’t see it coming,” said Trimble, who made it 45-27 at that point in the game. “But it really just boosts everyone and gets everyone pumped, and we just start going on a run when everyone makes the little plays like that.”
Fulk had eight in the third quarter and Trimble seven, but a 3-pointer from sophomore Dawson Strickland and a layup from Edwards at the buzzer ahead of the fourth quarter kept the Warriors within 14. That left Platte County vulnerable to one last run, even after Bradley hit a bucket and drew a foul to become the fifth and final starter to reach double figures. He missed the ensuing free throw, and Foster immediately started the solo 8-0 run that turned out to be the last threat to the Pirates on the night.
“When our kids came out and were locked in, they were dialed in and they were on point with where they needed to be we looked pretty good defensively,” Hodge said. “When we let our guard down and we start getting lazy jogging back, not accounting for shooter in transition, gave up too many and-ones, then we’re not so good and we let teams hang around.”
Even without an earlier knockout blow, Platte County comfortably finished claiming the share of the conference title and now has 20 wins in what has become one of the two best two-year runs in program history. The only item missing that might level the field with the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 teams would be a playoff trip.
The 2005 team reached the Class 4 quarterfinals before losing in dramatic fashion to Marcus Walker and O’Hara.
A year ago, Platte County reached the final of a smaller Class 5 District 16 field before suffering a somewhat stunning loss to Kearney, which ran out to a big early lead and held on late to earn a split of four matchups on the season. After a postseason realignment essentially combined two of the 2021 districts, the Pirates’ quest for the playoffs in 2022 starts with KC East, but a dangerous field in the eight-team bracket that features three teams with at least 18 wins. None of those are fourth-seeded Van Horn, which went to the state semifinals a year ago and opens vs. fifth-seeded Lincoln Prep (18-7) with the winner likely to oppose the Pirates.
No. 2 seed William Chrisman (18-7) and No. 3 seed Smithville (19-6) will be the favorites to reach the other semifinal.
“Districts is districts so they’re going to be amped up for that,” Hodge said. “And the thing with this group is, they rise to the occasion.”
Platte County 76, Belton 55
A 9-0 run late in the third quarter turned a battle of Pirates into a runaway for Platte County on Thursday night at Platte County High School.
Platte County celebrated senior night before the regular season finale but ended up facing a stiff challenge much of the way. Belton led 39-38 when Platte County hit three 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions for a 9-0 run — the first from Trimble and then a pair for Mueller, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
That marked the biggest lead for either team to that point, and Mueller stretched the advantage to 51-41 when he hit 2 of 3 free throws with 52.9 seconds left in the third quarter after drawing a foul on a 3-point shot along the right baseline.
Mueller finished with three 3s while Vignery had four off the bench on his way to a career-high 12 points.
Platte County hit 13 3-pointers total, and Havemeier (13), Bradley (13) and Fulk (10) also hit double-figures in scoring and with one triple apiece. Trimble had two 3s for six points, while junior guard Boston Wahlert had a 3 and totaled five points. A running one-handed dunk from Havemeier increased Belton’s deficit to 64-49, and Bradley added his 3 and inside basket at either end of a late 7-0 run that made it 71-51.
At that point, Platte County had been on a 33-12 run that lasted less than 9 minutes of game time.
Platte County started its five seniors, including guard Eli Nelson who replaced Bradley for the night. Nelson also started at times earlier this season when Mueller went down with a shoulder injury and Bradley missed time due to a family vacation.
Belton started fast behind high-scoring junior guard Giovanni Mack, who hit a pair of 3-pointers and accounted for eight points in the first quarter alone on his way to a game-high 19 — matching his season average. Trimble picked up two early fouls guarding him, creating more issues for Platte County, which trailed 14-12 going to the second quarter.
Vignery opened the second quarter with a 3 to give Platte County the lead back. Trimble then added his first 3 and Vignery banged in a second to make it a 21-16 lead, but the momentum didn’t last with Trimble and Havemeier eventually saddled to the bench due to fouls.
Belton hit a 3 with 14 seconds left in the second quarter to tie it back up at 30-30, but Fulk split a pair of free throws with 0.9 on the clock to establish a one-point lead at the break for Platte County. The game went back and forth for the next 4 minutes when Platte County pulled away for the first time with the three straight 3s.