Platte County boys shock No. 1 Lafayette, reach district final

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County players celebrate after the final buzzer in a 52-51 overtime win against St. Joseph Lafayette in a Class 4 District 16 semifinal Thursday, March 5 at Savannah High School in Savannah, Mo. SAVANNAH, Mo. -- Topher Kilkenny awkwardly balanced on one leg and decided to throw up the shot anyway.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County forward Sam Zimmerman, center, takes a shot in between St. Joseph Lafayette defenders Gary Wilkinson, left, and Caleb Bennett during a Class 4 District 16 semifinal Thursday, March 5 at Savannah High School in Savannah, Mo.

No one could have expected Platte County's first points of overtime to come from that spot on the floor. Yet, the Pirates senior banked the unlikely 3-point shot home to put Class 4 District 16's top seed on notice again.

Platte County would have to endure another wild 22 seconds to prevail on Thursday, March 5 in a semifinal matchup with St. Joseph Lafayette -- ranked No. 1 in Class 4 according to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association. An unheralded reserve guard hit the tying and game-winning free throws in Platte County's 52-51 overtime victory at Savannah High School -- the second straight district win for the Pirates after going winless in postseason play since a 2010 upset of the same Fighting Irish in the District 16 title game.

With a roster full of seniors, Platte County (12-15) has won four straight entering the championship game against Kearney at 8 p.m., Friday, March 6 back at Savannah High School. Prior to the current run, the Pirates had not won consecutive games this season.

"We've had our share of adversity all season long between injury and illness, and I kept telling the kids all season long we have yet to play at full strength," Platte County coach Rick Hodge said. "We're finally getting our kids back. They're together; they're clicking. I always kept telling them and staying positive."

Ironically, Platte County still didn't have a full complement of players in this matchup after senior starting forward Jake Eastman went out with a lower right leg injury early in the first half.

Hodge opted to use junior reserve point guard Kodee Martin to fill most of the void in an effort to handle the press. Unwittingly, the Pirates veteran coach helped create an unlikely hero and put Platte County one win away from its first playoff appearance in five years.

Lafayette led 49-47 in the final minute of overtime until Kilkenny rose up from near the left corner in an attempt to create contact before banking in his shot from an audacious angle with 22 seconds to play.

"I mean I was trying to hit it, obviously, and draw a foul," said Kilkenny, who finished with 13 points -- one of three seniors in double figures. "Luckily, we got some luck in there. Obviously, that was all luck, that shot."

The state runner-up in Class 4 last year, Lafayette (20-5) needed just 12 seconds to answer on a driving layup to take the lead back at 51-50. Hodge called a timeout with 8.8 seconds to play to try and set up a play to push the ball up court and create a quick look.

Wasn't needed.

Lafayette guard Gary Wilkinson fouled Martin as soon as he caught the inbounds pass. Only 0.8 of a second elapsed, setting up a dramatic chance at the line. Martin bounced in the first in a one-and-one situation and then calmly sank the second for the lead.

A timeout with 6.6 seconds to go helped build the drama even more.

Inbounding from half court, Lafayette worked the ball to Wilkinson, who took a looping path from the left wing to the right block for a contested layup attempt. The ball bounced off the rim and out, ending the season for the two-time defending district champions and setting off a quick celebration that included Jake Eastman hobbling onto the court on crutches with his leg injury.

Martin finished with four points, going 4-for-4 on free throws, and never wavered at the thought of taking his turn at the line with the game on the line.

"I was excited," he said. "I just wanted to get to the line for my team, wanted the ball. I just went up there to try and do the best I could to help my team."

Platte County gave an early indication of its plans to bid for an upset.

Seeded fourth, the Pirates opened with a 9-1 run, capped with Kilkenny's first 3 to prompt a timeout from Lafayette with 4:13 left in the opening quarter. The Irish responded with baskets, allowing them to set up a trapping press that began to fluster the underdogs into turnovers.

Lafayette used a 7-0 run to start the second quarter to build a 21-15 lead -- an advantage held until the waning seconds of regulation.

Platte County briefly went down 11 before halftime but mustered seven unanswered to close the first half despite missing a pair of free throws on and-one opportunities to go into the break down 28-27. Sam Zimmerman, the Pirates leading scorer, capped the surge with a layup off of a turnover with 20 seconds left in the second quarter -- part of his 10 first-half points on the way to a game-high 16.

"We took a big punch late first quarter when they got back in," Hodge said. "We knew they would. They're too talented, and they've got too much tradition and we know they're not going to lay down. I told them at half, 'We took their punch and didn't get knocked out.' We weathered that storm."

Platte County forged ties at 28 and 30 early in the third quarter but appeared to lose touch after allowing another 7-0 burst in less than 2 minutes.

Down 43-34 entering the fourth quarter, Zimmerman came up with his only two field goals during an 11-0 run that set up a frenetic finish. Both came on two-handed breakaway dunks, and the second tied the score at 43 with 4:45 to play. Kilkenny added a drving layup just more than a minute later to put the Pirates up 45-43 -- their first lead since the end of the first quarter -- with 3:25 to go.

"Same thing. It was another big punch," Hodge said. "But we didn't get knocked out. They just kept clawing their way, clawing their way back."

Platte County wouldn't lead again in regulation, and Lafayette attempted to run out the final 48.9 seconds for a final winning shot. Instead, the Irish turned it over with 2.1 to go, but Kilkenny's running heave from three-quarters court stayed well wide left, sending the semifinal into overtime tied at 47.

Unable to score for the first 3 1/2 minutes, the Pirates appeared doomed to a disappointing loss to end a frustrating season for seven seniors. Instead, just enough time remained for a 3-pointer Kilkenny couldn't recreate unguarded in a vacant gym and two free throws from a player not expected to play a big role prior to Jake Eastman's injury.

Hodge reminded his players in the jubilant postgame locker room that the historic win -- one of the biggest in recent memory for Platte County -- means a lot less without one more win. The Pirates went 1-2 against Kearney (12-13) this season, including two tough losses in Suburban Conference Blue Division play. The win came in the third-place game of Kearney's Bulldog Classic back in January.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County players Nick Kunels (left), Tyler Clemens (center) and Kodee Martin walk off the court after the Pirates beat St. Joseph Lafayette 52-51 in a Class 4 District 16 semifinal Thursday, March 5 at Savannah High School in Savannah, Mo.