Friday, March 8, 2013

Bulldogs Sting Yellowjackets to Win District Championship

By Paul Thompson
The Grandview Bulldogs continue along the road to redemption.
The Bulldogs (15-12) upset district favorite Center (21-5) in a wild 68-65 victory Monday night in the Class 4, District 14 championship game. The loss avenged Grandview’s 52-35 season-opening loss to Center on November 30, when star junior guard Tyrone Taylor was the only Bulldog in double figures with 12 points. Flash-forward three months, and Grandview is riding a six-game winning streak, hoisting the district championship trophy, and heading to sub-state.
The big difference was center Nelson Nweke, who came into form when Grandview most needed it. Nweke scored 18 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ semifinal victory over Raytown South
before adding 21 points and 16 rebounds in an enormous game Monday night against the favored Yellowjackets. Nweke was also 9 of 12 from the free-throw line, with many of his attempts coming in the game’s crucial final minutes. The moment never got too big for the level-headed Nweke.
For the Grandview coaching staff, Nweke’s breakout performance was vindication for the faith they’ve shown the big man during his three years at Grandview High School.
“When he was a freshman, I played him all the time. We’ve been thinking that he would blossom at some point,” said Grandview head coach Randy Farris after the win. “Mid-year we thought it might not be until
senior year. But he is really coming through now in the end.”
For his part, Nweke says that the playing time he received as a freshman and sophomore helped prepare him for Monday’s district championship game.
“It prepared me real well because as a freshman I got to play on the big stage,” said Nweke. “As a junior playing on this stage, I feel more comfortable and more relaxed.”
Nweke was about the only person who was relaxed in the Grandview High School gymnasium as the final interminable seconds ticked off the clock Monday night. Grandview held a seemingly comfortable 60-46 lead with 4:16 left in the game, and were up by as much as 13 with less than three minutes in the game. But Center, one of the best teams in the city, wasn’t quite ready to give up on the season yet.The Yellowjackets turned up the full-court pressure in the final minutes, forcing several untimely Bulldog turnovers as Grandview tried to wind down the clock.
“We did not handle any of those situations very well,” said a relieved Farris about the end of the game. “We weren’t trying to attack, we were just trying to get fouled.”
The Bulldogs, though, had trouble even inbounding the basketball against the ferocious and desperate Yellowjackets.
With 23 seconds left in the game, Tyrone Taylor made one of two free throws to put the Bulldogs up 68-62. But Center rushed down and nailed a 3-pointer, and when Damon King was called for a traveling violation on the ensuing inbounds pass, Center had their chance to send the game to an improbable
overtime session with just nine seconds left in regulation. Center got one good 3-point attempt, but the shot careened off the back iron and the Yellowjackets never had another attempt. Grandview had won the district championship.
“I was like ‘oh my God, these are the longest two minutes of my life’,” said an elated Taylor after the game.“That was rough, man. It was scary.”
Taylor admitted that after the 17-point loss to open the season, the victory was made sweeter by the fact that it happened against Center.
“It was like a backyard brawl,” he said. “It’s a neighbor school, so beating them was even bigger than getting the district win.”
Nweke said after the game that the team’s semifinal win against Raytown South was an important confidence boost for the Bulldogs. Raytown South had previously beaten Grandview twice in close contests, including an eight point win on Grandview’s home court in mid-February.
“We had a lot of confidence after the Raytown South game,” Nweke said. “We had the confidence that we could come in and beat anybody. Coming into the district championship on our own home floor was real big for us.”
Despite the home floor advantage, Center brought a strong fan contingent to the game, and created an electric environment in the building. Those fans were able to make themselves heard early in the game, when Center took an early lead during a frenetic first quarter. Farris called a timeout with his team down 13-4 and two minutes left in the quarter, both to calm his team and to let his players know that they needed to keep doing things the right way, and results would follow.
“I kept telling the kids ‘don’t look at the scoreboard. Just keep doing the right things’,” said Farris. “Keep your nose to the grindstone and it will work out.”
It may have been Farris’ best timeout of the season.
Grandview steadied to finish the quarter on 7-6 run, bringing the Bulldogs within a manageable eight points of Center. By the time the quarter ended, Grandview had not only quashed Center’s early momentum, but developed some of their own as well.
Once the second quarter commenced, the Bulldogs rode a highly entertaining 18- 3 run to a six-point halftime lead they would never relinquish. The victory earns Grandview the right to face Pleasant Hill in yet another chance at redemption.
Pleasant Hill beat Grandview 62-52 in a 9 a.m. tournament game at William Jewell on December 26. It will be yet another game that Grandview circles on the calendar, eager to make amends for a loss they felt should have been a victory.
“That was probably our driest patch of the year. We were trying to transition from a power team to a speed team,” said Taylor. “I think we might be even more motivated, because they shouldn’t have beaten us the first time. That should have never have happened.”
The Bulldogs can’t change the past, but they still have a chance to re-write the script for what has been an
up and down season. Their road to redemption continues onward.
“We survived,” said Farris. “That’s what they say this time of year, survive and advance.”

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