KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a pair of potentially catastrophic turnovers, Rick Hodge saw exactly what he needed to see during a timeout meant to calm potentially frayed nerves.
Platte County’s veteran coach broke the huddle with no panic and then watched his experienced starting five pull off a dramatic comeback in the final 2 minutes, 35 seconds of Tuesday’s Class 5 District 8 semifinal with Lincoln Prep. Pirates senior guard Jace Trimble put the top seed back in front for good with late up-and-under layup, and junior Chandavian Bradley’s split of two free throws in the closing seconds sealed an entertaining 61-57 victory at Winnetonka High School.
“None,” Hodge said of his panic level during the timeout after Lincoln Prep converted two easy layups off rushed miscues to take a 54-50 lead late in the fourth quarter. “And the reason why is the kids didn’t panic. When I called the full timeout and you’re looking in the kids’ eyes and hearing what they’re saying, that group of four seniors and one veteran junior, everything they said was positive and together: ‘We’re fine; we’ve got this.’ Once they were doing that, my message back to them was the same.”
Platte County improved to 21-4 overall and survived to advance to Thursday’s championship game against second-seeded William Chrisman (20-7), a 56-50 winner over Smithville in the first half of the semifinal doubleheader. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. back at Winnetonka High School.
Bradley finished with a team-high 16, while Trimble added 14 as the key engineers of Platte County’s comeback. The Pirates trailed by as much as nine late in the third quarter and played from behind for the majority of the second half against talented and feisty Lincoln Prep (19-9), which did not look the part of a fifth seed looking to spring another “upset.”
“We said that back in basically November when the district assignments came out,” Hodge said. “That this is going to be a tough district where any of about five teams can win the thing, and Lincoln’s in on that. I felt that from the beginning. It’s not a typical five seed, but somebody has to be in that spot.”
The second half featured another banked-in buzzer beater from Platte County senior guard Jarett Mueller (11 points), an emphatic momentum-swinging one-handed dunk from Bradley and not one but two incorrect team foul totals on the scoreboard that led to confusion and misapplied strategy in the closing seconds.
Lincoln Prep seemingly took command with an extended 12-0 run in the third quarter, repeatedly isolating defenders up top for pick-and-roll drives to the basket. The Blue Tigers consistently converted at the rim, pulled up for jumpers that splashed home or created second-chance opportunities.
A key moment came when Lincoln Prep senior forward Demetrius Barnes split a pair of free throws only for senior guard A’Justin Pearson to rebound the miss and score a cutback to make it 36-31. Later in the run, Bradley and Platte County senior forward Isaac Havemeier each had a blocked shot only for the Pirates to allow a 3-pointer to freshman Kamron Tate on an inbounds play after the second rejection to make it 40-31.
Hodge called a timeout after Tate’s 3, and Trimble immediately answered with a 3 from the left corner to end Platte County’s lengthy offensive drought. After an acrobatic layup from Lincoln Prep junior Israel Randle at the other end, Mueller knifed in for a layup and drew a foul but missed the free throw. The Pirates grabbed the rebound but turned it over, sending Barnes to the line for two more free throws with 6.3 seconds left in the corner.
Instead of adding to a 42-36 lead, Barnes missed both, and Mueller took the ball across half court, pulled up from well beyond the top of the arc and banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send Platte County into the fourth quarter down just 42-39. He had hit a pair of buzzer beaters, including another he banked in, just a few weeks earlier in a home win over Grandview.
“As soon as we got back to the bench, we were like, ‘We are not losing this game,'” Bradley said of the energy off the play with Mueller going to the bench, screaming nothing in particular in attempt to fire up his teammates.
Platte County senior Brody Fulk converted a three-point play early in the fourth quarter to draw the Pirates within two, and Trimble had back-to-back buckets to tie the score twice.
The teams would be level again at 50-50 when Lincoln Prep’s back-to-back steals created a quick flurry of offense and a 54-50 lead in a matter of moments. The Pirates immediately turned it over again on an out of bounds play under their basket, but Bradley then came up with a steal and finished uncontested with his only dunk of the night to pull the Pirates back within 54-52.
Lincoln Prep came back down to score in what became a seemingly unending string of clutch shots in the second half.
“Their mid-range (game) concerned me. Them getting to the rim concerned me,” Hodge said. “We were trying to pack in as much as we possibly can whether we are in the man or the zone, and they hit some shots. And you’ve got to give them credit for sticking those shots when they needed to.”
Back down four, Platte County went inside to Havemier, the 6-foot-6 senior forward who finished with 10 points, for a left-handed bucket on the block. He drew a foul but missed the shot, only for Bradley to grab an initial offensive rebound and then another off of a missed shot from the floor. He then rattled in a outback to tie the score for the final time at 56-56.
Lincoln Prep finally missed at the other end, and Trimble converted the layup to put Platte County in front 58-56 — the Pirates’ first lead since the opening minutes of the second half. A turnover from the Blue Tigers led to Fulk drawing a foul and hitting two free throws with 46.1 seconds left in regulation, making it a 10-2 run in a span of less than 2 minutes.
“We had to pick up and do the half-court trap stuff and try to get what we needed to,” Hodge said. “The kids made some plays out of that and got us right back in the game.”
Barnes split two free throws at the other end, but Mueller misfired on the front end of a one-and-one to give the ball back to Lincoln Prep down three points. The Blue Tigers took a timeout with 15.3 seconds, but the remaining time started to dissolve on the final play.
Fulk then fouled with 4.8 seconds left, thinking Platte County was at five team fouls based on the scoreboard. The scorer’s table corrected that number and awarded Tate a one-and-one opportunity when the Pirates were not attempting to put Lincoln Prep on the line.
Tate missed the front end, and Bradley again went high for a demonstrative rebound.
“I missed a rebound down there at the start of the half, the start of the second half,” he said. “I missed a really big rebound that led to an easy bucket for them. I knew I had to make up for it, so I just did my best to grab every rebound I could.”
Bradley made the first free throw with 3.3 seconds to left to all but seal the result, and even after missing the rim on the second, Platte County did not even attempt to play defense as Lincoln Prep fired up and missed what would have been a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Pirates enjoyed a mixture of relief and celebration before heading to the locker room.
“That fourth quarter is the energy we’ve had to play to all season with games like vs. Smithville, vs. Kearney, vs. Ruskin,” Bradley said. “We’ve had energy from our student sections that have just been amazing, and that’s what helps us win these games.”
Platte County’s biggest lead ended up coming after Mueller hit the second of two 3-pointers from the right corner on the Pirates’ first two possessions.
Lincoln Prep responded with a three-point play from Danen McHenry that started a 7-0 run, and Randle, who finished with a game-high 17, responded to Fulk’s right wing 3 and a baseline floater from Trimble with a triple of his own to put the Blue Tigers up 12-11 going to the second quarter. After Mueller’s fast start, he didn’t score again until the three-point play opportunity late in the third quarter.
“They were all over him, and we tried to run some set plays for him that they sniffed out and were able to defend,” Hodge said. “We were also trying to get him on some different back screen actions to get other guys freed up. Nothing worked. He then really did a good job of not forcing it. What he did was run the offense and allow the other playmakers to make plays.”
Lincoln Prep took advantage and scored 12 of 14 points in the second quarter on four 3-pointers.
Bradley and Trimble hit back-to-back 3s for Platte County early in the second quarter to stake the Pirates to a 17-12 lead, but they were back behind 21-18 moneys later. Bradley scored four straight, only for Lincoln Prep senior reserve forward Brendan Hurd to hurt his third 3 of the quarter and draw a foul on the shot. He missed the chance at the four-point play, and Havemeier’s split of two free throws in the final minute of the second quarter sent the Blue Tigers into halftime down 27-26.
Havemeier had two inside buckets out of the break to make it 31-28, only for Barnes to answer with a three-point play to start the run of 12 answered points that established a 40-31 lead for Lincoln Prep that put Platte County’s memorable season on the brink. The Pirates managed to close the gap in the remainder of the third quarter, grab some confidence on Mueller’s desperation 3 and then finished the comeback in the closing minutes.
Trimble had six in the fourth quarter, but Bradley might have been the biggest difference maker not just with nine points after being held scoreless in the third but also with defense and rebounding.
“He was very. He’s very good,” Hodge said. “And he rises up in these moments, and we need him to. I can tell you that.”
Platte County enters the Class 5 District 8 title game looking for just the sixth playoff trip in program history and first since upsetting top-seeded Lafayette in the 2010 Class 4 District 16 championship game. The Pirates will be in a district title game for just the fifth time since, making it back after losing to Kearney in last year’s five-team Class 5 District 16 final in a minor upset before the state reduced the number of districts this year to eight and upped the difficulty.
Having already secured back-to-back shared Suburban Conference Blue Division titles and back-to-back 20-win seasons for the second time in program history, Platte County’s five seniors, a group that also includes reserve guard Eli Nelson, have a chance to reach another goal that eluded them a year earlier. The Pirates’ first three playoff trips (1954, 1955, 1960) were as Platte City High School, and only the 2004-2005 teams led by stars Kirk Stegeman and Lorenzo Riley and Hodge in the earliest part of his tenure have achieved more than this current group.
“Any time you’re playing for a district championship, you’re excited, and you’re excited for the kids to be able play in an environment like this,” Hodge said. “This is why you come out for high school basketball is to have these moments.”
Platte County 83, Kansas City East 57
In what could be the last varsity game played in the historic north gym at Platte County High School, the Pirates pulled away for an easy win Saturday in the first round of the Class 5 District 8 tournament.
Hodge played reserves for the entire fourth quarter with Platte County reserve sophomore Judah Vignery scoring all five of his points in the frame. East (2-24), which brought only six players, used the opportunity to turn a 30-point running clock into a more respectable final score.
Havemeier scored a career-high 24 points — 14 in a huge third quarter for Platte County, which started shredding pressure defense for repeated easy layups. Bradley added 17, while Trimble (14) and Mueller (12) also finished in double figures for the Pirates.
Mueller had five points, including the first of two early 3-pointers, while Bradley added a triple during in initial 8-0 run for Platte County, which led 23-8 after the first quarter and scored 23 or more in each of the first three quarters. Trimble sidestepped a defender for a 3-pointer early in the second quarter as the Pirates’ lead ballooned to 20 before a 7-0 run from East closed the gap.
Trimble added five more in 7-0 Platte County run that started on his second 3 late in the second quarter, and Havemeier added a pair of buckets to send the Bears into halftime down 46-20. Trimble finished the first half with 12 points, while Havemeier and Mueller added 10 apiece. Bradley threw home an emphatic two-handed dunk on a designed play to set up the alley-oop out of halftime to get to 11 points, and the lead swelled to 68-30 at one point in the third quarter.
Fulk finished with nine points — five in the first quarter including a 3 and four more in the third quarter before the bench players took the final 8 minutes.