With a potential slip-up sure to reduce the margin for error, Platte County found a needed response in a tricky Suburban Conference Blue Division matchup.
Grandview, down from the typical powerhouse form this season, twice narrowed a once double-digit gap to one point in the fourth quarter Tuesday night at Platte County High School. Platte County somehow never allowed the Bulldogs to regain the lead in what became a deceivingly comfortable 77-61 victory, closing the game on a decisive 19-4 run. The Pirates needed the collective effort of senior guards Jarett Mueller (team-high 24 points) and Jace Trimble (20 points, including clutch three-point play down the stretch) and junior forward Chandavian Bradley (15 points, including highlight reel, left-handed windmill dunk to punctuate the late surge).
“It felt really good, finally putting someone away,” Mueller said.
The closing effort became even more important three days later when Platte County lost in overtime to Ruskin, which swept the regular season series with the Pirates.
Currently, Ruskin (9-2), Platte County (9-2) and Smithville (8-2) sit in a virtual dead heat for the Blue Division title. Grandview continues to hold the fifth spot in the seven-team standings but provided a dangerous test.
Platte County knew a win over Grandview on Tuesday meant only a split of the final two conference games with Ruskin and Smithville would be necessary to earn at least a share of a second straight league crown.
“I felt like in the second half we kind of let our guard down a little bit, but we finished them off because we know we can’t overlook anyone,” Mueller said.
Despite a slow start, Platte County (18-4 overall) looked to be in control going into the second half thanks to a pair of buzzer-beating 3-pointers from Mueller at the end of the first and second quarters. The Pirates were up 31-25 at the break, and Hodge immediately drew up a play resulting in a back-door layup for Mueller, who then added another layup that became a three-point play on the next possession.
Bradley then stole the inbounds and converted a layup while drawing a foul. This put Platte County up 38-26 with a lightning-quick 7-1 run even after Bradley missed the free throw on his three-point play opportunity.
Grandview came back with four straight points, starting a trend of falling behind by double digits only to come right back.
A knifing layup from Trimble made it 46-36, and a 3 from Mueller gave him 20 points and pushed the lead out to 53-39, only for the Bulldogs to answer with a three-point play and 3-pointer to trim the deficit back to eight points. A layup off of a turnover with under a minute left in the third quarter forced a timeout from Hodge to try and quell the momentum.
Trimble hit a corner 3 out of the stoppage, only for Grandview to match with a 3 at the other end. Bradley missed a pair of free throws with 1.2 seconds left on the clock, meaning the Pirates went into the final 8 minutes with just a six-point lead.
“He just never quits,” Mueller said of Trimble. “If he gets pissed off or down on himself, he just plays even harder, makes it up on the other end. He always helps us no matter what.”
Grandview senior Maurice Jennings hit a 3 on the opening possession of the fourth quarter to slice the gap in half. The Bulldogs would then be within 56-55 and 58-57 with multiple possessions where they had a chance to take the lead when their offense dried up.
Trimble took over for a stretch with a right-wing 3-pointer that rolled in on one possession followed by a transition layup on an outlet pass from Bradley that became a traditional three-point play. Suddenly, he was at 20 points in a bounce back offensive performance, and Platte County was up 67-57 with just over 3 minutes to play.
“We have to have the ball in (Trimble’s) hands,” Hodge said. “He plays so fast, but he still makes pretty good decisions when he has it — when to dish, when to shoot — so yes, we want him with the ball.”
Bradley added his windmill dunk off of a turnover to make it 71-59, and Platte County senior Brody Fulk hit a pair of free throws to make it 77-59 with 1:14 left. A run of 19-2 took less than 4 minutes of game time.
With three starters carrying the load, Pirates senior forward Isaac Havemeier added seven points and Fulk six, while junior Boston Wahlert added five off the bench — all during a key spell of the first half.
“What I liked was late in the game when we started going through the paint and the block more because we had advantages down low,” Hodge said. “The kids did a better job on the offensive end of showing a little more patience, getting the ball reversal, getting it inside. Chandavian took advantage of everything on the block, which is where he needed to be. That’s where we got our separation.”
Grandview did lead most of the first half, thanks to Platte County going more than 3 minutes without a bucket to start the game. However, the Pirates only fell behind 7-0 and came right back with a 9-2 run that included baskets from four of the five starters.
Trimble hit a pair of 3s in the first quarter, and Mueller banked home a deep triple from the right wing at the buzzer to make it 17-15 going to the second quarter.
“I have confidence with the veteran group we have to just let them go,” Hodge said. “I was itching to call a timeout and visit with them, but with this group, we kind of let them play through it a little bit. And they’re smart enough to start figuring some things out and where to attack and how to attack.”
Both teams struggled on offense early in the second quarter, but a split of two free throws for Bradley and a 3-pointer for Havemeier gave Platte County its first lead at 21-18. Grandview went more than 5 minutes without a field goal in what ended up a debilitating stretch of play.
Wahlert, fresh off of playing hero in a junior varsity win, provided a driving layup that turned into a three-point play to make it 24-20 with 2:35 left before halftime. He added another bucket, and Mueller hit an open 3 from the left corner at the buzzer to provide some cushion and momentum.
“That first one, little spin stepback thing, it was pretty lucky. It wasn’t the play but it went in,” Mueller said. “The last one was a really good pass from Isaac to get right over the top, just wide open.”
Mueller didn’t play in a tight December win over Grandview and scored 14 of his 24 in the second half. The victory came just days after an upset loss on the road to Lafayette and completed a season sweep of the Bulldogs.
Because of the loss to Ruskin on Friday, Platte County needs a win at home Tuesday vs. Smithville to clinch at least a share of the title. Ruskin also earns a piece with a win against Grandview. There’s also scenarios for any of the three teams to win the title outright with Smithville also playing Grandview on Wednesday.
“When you’re playing these conference teams in late February, they know you pretty well,” Hodge said. “You’re going to have to win sloppy games this time of year. Everybody has now played you a second time. They’ve seen a ton of film on you. They know what you’re trying to do.
“It’s not going to be easy, especially in this league.”
Ruskin 73, Platte County 70, OT
Mueller’s running 3-point attempt at the overtime buzzer went offline Friday night at Platte County High School, as the Pirates nearly pulled off a victory despite a 25-11 foul disparity working against them.
Hodge lobbied the officials for a shooting foul on Mueller’s attempt but did not get a reprieve. Platte County finished the game with Fulk, Bradley and Havemeier all fouled out, while Mueller picked up his fourth personal in the overtime.
In a contentious matchup with a full gymnasium and a local television crew broadcasting the game live, Platte County and Ruskin went back and forth for all of regulation and went into overtime tied 62-62. Mueller had a pair of 3s in the extra session, and the Pirates actually led 70-69 but couldn’t hold the lead with a makeshift lineup on the floor.
Ruskin took a timeout with 37 seconds left and took the lead back on a basket and wouldn’t trail again.
Hodge set up a play in another timeout with 21 seconds to go, and Mueller appeared to hit a driving layup while making contact with a Ruskin defender. Two different officials instead signaled for a charge — his fourth foul — negating the basket and the possibility for a three-point play. The Eagles went end to end for a dunk on the ensuing possession to go up three, and they opted not to foul on Platte County’s final possession despite only having five team fouls in the second half compared to 16 on the Pirates to keep Mueller from attempting the potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer.
Fulk fouled out with 15 points, having kept Platte County afloat in a disjointed first half. He had six early in the first quarter to stake the Pirates to an 8-4 lead. Havemeier, who finished with 12 points, added a pair of back-to-back blocks — the second denying a possible dunk attempt — that led to a runout layup for Fulk to make it 10-7. The Pirates would continue to lead, and Fulk’s 10 points in the first half gave them a 14-11 advantage going to the second quarter despite a runout layup for Ruskin at the buzzer.
Platte County’s turnover struggles then caught up to them, and Ruskin took a 19-16 lead on an alley-top dunk off of a giveaway.
Mueller and Trimble combined for only seven points for Platte County in the first half total, and all four of Trimble’s points in the game came during the second quarter. Fulk gave the Pirates the lead back at 28-27 with a 3, and the Pirates went into halftime with a 32-31 advantage after Ruskin mucked up its final possession of the second quarter. The Eagles tried to play for a final shot but a double team from Fulk helped Mueller grab a steal and hit Trimble for a runout layup as time expired.
Mueller got going early in the second half with a 3 to make it 39-33, but Ruskin answered with a pair of triples to tie it right back up. He hit another 3 and senior guard Eli Nelson added one from the right wing to make it 47-43, only for the Eagles to close the third quarter on a 7-2 run to regain the lead at 50-49.
Platte County junior guard Judah Vignery drained a 3 from the left corner early in the fourth quarter to make it 52-50, but the Pirates wouldn’t lead again. Ruskin attempted 15 free throws in the second half compared to seven in the entire game for home team. The Eagles took the lead on a three-point possession at 62-59 with 2:10 to go in regulation. After Bradley picked up his fifth foul on a shot attempt, they hit a first free throw and then rebounded and back a miss on the second.
Fulk fouled out 9 seconds later on an illegal screen that resulted in a turnover.
Luckily, Ruskin didn’t score in the final two minutes, and Mueller, who had a backdoor layup to it at 59, came up with a tying three-point play at the 1:42 mark for the final points of regulation.