Listless in the first quarter, Platte County fell behind big in the first half of the Class 4 District 16 championship game at Savannah High School. Yet, the Pirates fought back to hold possession four different times in the final minute with a chance to tie or take the lead against Kearney on Friday, March 6.
The comeback fell short in a 50-47 loss, but Platte County’s players forged an opportunity many didn’t see possible in an up-and-down season that featured its share of obstacles.
“These are the nights we’re going to remember when we grow up and tell our children about and talk to our friends about,” said Platte County senior forward Josh Eastman, who hit all four of his 3-pointers in the second half on the way to a game-high 18 points.
“Being in a district title game with the students that were backing us up, it was amazing.”
Down 11 at halftime, Platte County (12-16) whittled the deficit down to four in the third quarter, but 3-pointers from Pierce Moling and Sam Huet — the first on the last possession of the third quarter, the second on the first possession of the fourth quarter — capped a 12-2 run for Kearney.
The push re-established a double-digit lead at 37-27 and asked questions about whether the Pirates could answer another challenge.
Eastman and fellow senior forward Sam Zimmerman combined for 28 of Platte County’s 34 points in the second half, including 16 of 20 in the fourth quarter. Eastman’s fourth and final 3, which came from the left corner, closed the Pirates within 46-43, and Kearney immediately committed a turnover.
“They did what we all knew that they would do, and they did what I told them they were going to do at half,” Platte County coach Rick Hodge said. “I know things were a little bleak at the half, but I looked them dead in the eye and said, ‘We know this isn’t us.’”
Zimmerman, who finished with 12 points (all in the second half), knocked down two free throws on the ensuing possession to start the back-and-forth pattern of play for the final 37 seconds.
Eastman scored a layup off an inbounds play with 11.7 seconds to go to close back within one at 48-47. Kearney split a pair of free throws in each of its next two trips to the line. In between, Zimmerman’s runner from the right side of the lane with a chance to the score at 49.
Instead, Kearney made its final free throw with 2.1 seconds left for the final margin. Platte County didn’t get a shot off in the final 2.1 seconds remaining.
“The obvious answer is we just buried ourselves too deep in the first half,” Hodge said.
Coming off an upset of No. 1-ranked Lafayette the night before, Platte County created no offense early and trailed by as much as 14 in the first half.
Kearney started out on a 13-0 run, capped with a pair of 3s for Moling (18 points). Eastman finally broke the drought for Platte County with a layup at the 2:10 mark of the first quarter. The Pirates hit only five field goals in the first half, but three were 3s to help keep the score 24-13 at halftime.
Eastman hit 3s on Platte County’s first two possessions of the third quarter, and Zimmerman’s first basket pulled the Pirates within 25-21, the closest they had been to the second-seeded Bulldogs since the opening 3 minutes.
Ultimately, the comeback bid fell short, and Kearney advanced back to the playoffs in its first year since dropping back down to Class 4 from Class 5.
“Coach Hodge told us that he knew we had one more run left in us,” Eastman said. “He knew we were a team that wouldn’t give up, and that’s what we did. We just went out there and fought.”
Platte County was seeking its first playoff trip since 2010 behind a roster with seven seniors. That group finished 4-6 and fourth place out of six in Suburban Conference Blue Division play while battling injuries to Eastman, Zimmerman and senior point guard Topher Kilkenny along the way.