“This is going to be an entirely different game than the first matchup. This is going to be an absolute dogfight, down to the wire finish…”
This was the message to our team on Thursday afternoon. When we walked off the floor with a 30 point victory, one of our best offensive performances of the year, we were extremely satisfied with how we had played. 42 days later though, the two teams were in dramatically different places than where we were on our January 8th matchup. On the Griffins side, they returned their starting PG and a key freshman playmaker off of the bench, both of whom missed our first meeting due to injury. They also decided to go all-in on a new defensive scheme which is unique to them and even when prepared for can still be difficult to manage. Finally, like we went through last year, they are in Year One of a coaching change and it just took them time to put their pillars in place and it’s so obvious that Coach Stegeman has them trending in an upward trajectory. With wins at Kearney and tight games vs. Grandview, Platte County, Fort Osage and Ruskin, we knew how much better they would be. On the Warriors side, we unfortunately saw our JV season come to an end last week due to COVID protocols which forced us to lose most of our bench–who will luckily be returning prior to districts–but left us with 8 total players for Friday night. Add it all up and we got exactly what we thought we would.
The first possession of the game, there it was, the Diamond and 1 on Ryker. For non-basketball fans, this means that 4 defensive guys play zone while 1 defensive player face guards a player. Whenever you’re face-guarded for an entire game, it can be very, very frustrating and this is where I have to give our staff and Ryker a lot of credit. We knew it was coming. We prepared Ryker both physically and mentally for it and I thought he played a great game, keeping his composure, using himself as a decoy and his mere presence on the floor created the looks for his teammates that wouldn’t have been there without him.
As for the game itself, it was a back and forth game all night. A majority of the game saw leads by both teams within 4 points or so. Without question, our MVP for the night was our senior and 6th man, Nick Dakon who once again found a home in the Winnetonka gym, knocking down 6 threes and leading us with 18 points. Nick had a similar dominant performance at this gym last year and our players were quick to remind him after the first few shots went in that this was “his gym” and that confidence grew as the night went along.
After Brad hit what we thought might be a dagger 3 to put us up by 6 with 1:38 to go, the Griffins responded with a lightning quick 7-0 run and all of a sudden, after leading for a majority of the game, we found ourselves down by 1 with 28 seconds to go. Timeout, Warriors.
Our staff and our kids were so great in this moment. It’s really one of the defining moments of our year. There wasn’t an ounce of panic in that group. Coach Mason was confidently letting all of our guys know, “We’ve been here before, fellas. Here we go.” And we have. 3 weeks earlier, we found ourselves down 3 vs. Grandview. Timeout, ball on the sideline, just like tonight. We drew up a play, one we should know by the back of our hand because we run it all the time but we didn’t execute it correctly and that was it. And when we watched it in film the next day, it was clear, it wasn’t about what Grandview did, it was about what we failed to do. A painful reminder about how close this game can be. We learned something that day. Fast forward back to Winnetonka, we drew up a play–one we’ve ran many times before–the play was designed for Ryker to go downhill towards the rim, Cody was going to roll to the basket, shooters (Brad and Nick) in both corners, if Ryker didn’t have anything, just the motion of him going downhill and acting as a bit of a decoy would stretch the defense and Ryker knew exactly where he was going–right back to Keltin at the top of the key who drove right down the left lane as he does so well and made the clutch layup to put us ahead. Perfect and I mean PERFECT execution. 5 guys came did their jobs to perfection and we got the bucket we needed.
The game wasn’t over though. After a timeout by the Griffins and a defensive stop and rebound, Ryker went to the line with 2.6 seconds left, up by 1 point. I couldn’t help but laugh. 2.6 seconds, Warrior fans will remember is exactly the amount of time that was left in the LeBlond championship game vs. St. Michaels when we lost after SMA went 90 feet in 2.6 (or so) seconds. Ryker, who is one of the best FT shooters in all of Kansas City, 83.6%, missed the first. Had a split second decision to make; “Ryker…miss it.” I told him. I owe him a career point for that call but he executed; defensive rebound, timeout Griffins. 0.4 had run off the clock, now 2.2 remained. Surely some folks in the crowd were wondering “What is he thinking?” with that decision. These things are always about calculated risks. I’ll bring you guys inside of one of these types of decisions for a coach. First off, these decisions come and go very quickly, we’re talking seconds. In my head, they were going to have to go 90 feet to win or tie no matter what. More than likely, that shot was going to be some type of three pointer so being up 2 with a made free throw didn’t do much for us. We sent all of our guys back behind half court so we didn’t pick up a dumb foul in the back court on the miss. Knew they had a timeout left and knew they would probably use it to talk it over but by taking 0.4 (what I was hoping would be more like 0.6 or 0.8 off the clock), I figured we had eliminated the risk of them trying to move the ball up the floor on the dribble–which would’ve brought back the hand-check and them shooting free throws to win the game scenario. Equally important, because I figured the miss would force them to use the timeout they had, it was going to be a spot on the inbounds—meaning they couldn’t run on the baseline on the inbounds pass–which meant we could put some pressure on the ball. Keltin took care of the ball pressure on the ball and did such a great job that the ball hit the rafters and we got the ball back without having to make a play on the ball. The final piece of that decision was the comfort in knowing that because it was probably going to be a baseball pass that we had to tip/knock down/steal; I had an all-state free safety back there with Cody, an athletic freak in Ryker and two guys in Brad and Nick who constantly play the back rows of our press who are great at positioning themselves on 50/50 balls like the one that needed to be thrown. I trusted my guys. And they rewarded me. This time; it worked out.
We had a balanced scoring attack from the rest of group all night but we ended the night with 9 three pointers on the night. We struggled mightily from the line, shooting an abysmal 8/21 which almost came back to bite us. Ryker had 9 points, Brad Schram had 8 points, Keltin Nitsche had 7 points, Cody Simoncic had 6, Rhett Foster had 3 points.
Two guys did not score tonight, Marcus Garza and Andrew Miller but they both were PHENOMENAL in their minutes tonight. Marcus was a +10 in his 8 minutes of play, taking 2 massive charges tonight. Andrew came in and grabbed 6 rebounds for us, dished out 4 assists and took a charge for us. So proud of these two. They have stayed ready all season long, getting better and better, week by week. Two juniors that have given this program nothing but hard work and dedication for three years, who were stars in their roles as bench leaders this year, always making sure we had enthusiasm and support and when their number was called in our time of need, they showed up and did their job. Winners, both are w-i-n-n-e-r-s.
In fact, we took 6 charges on the night, 1 away from the school record. Another example of how unselfish this group is. All they care about is finding a way to win and what a tough, gritty, grind it out performance Friday night was.
We hope that our biggest wins are still yet to come! We return home for our final home game of the season on Monday night vs. Raytown South (6 PM tip) and we will travel to PC on Tuesday night (6 PM tip) as our regular season comes to an end. We will then turn our attention to 5 seed Excelsior Springs, who we will host on Saturday, March 27th at home (5 PM) tip in the opening round of district play!
Three game week! Playoff week! This is why we play! LETS GO WARRIORS!