Ryan Nichols’ players managed to hide a surprise from their coach in his second homecoming game. The 2000 Platte County graduate couldn’t hide his emotions when the realization hit him pregame.
In a joint gesture of support, Platte County and Lafayette players took the floor Friday, Dec. 9 at Platte County High School in bright orange Nike socks with the letters “LJ” on the side. The teams paid tribute to the life of Landon Jaros, a 4-year-old Platte City boy who died from complications with cancer treatment earlier this year, with a pregame statement in addition to the wardrobe choice.
In his first year as coach of the St. Joseph school, Nichols is the uncle of Jaros, who is the son of Platte County football and baseball coach Todd Jaros and Platte County graduate Megan Jaros. A large section of friends and family of the Jaros and Nichols families were in attendance for the game.
Nichols and Todd Jaros received a pair of the socks, as well.
“Every time I come back here, it’s just a unique experience,” Nichols said. “I have a lot of fond memories here and to come back as the opponent is a different thing, then to mix that with the socks the kids were wearing. The funny story with that is I preach to the kids that they can only wear socks that are school colors, and they had those socks on the whole time and I didn’t realize it.
“We were getting ready to do starting lineups, and I look down the line and see all of them are wearing orange socks. My emotions took over at that point.”
For just the second time in his career, Nichols coached at Platte County High School against his alma mater. His previous stints as head coach include DeKalb and Oak Park, which beat Platte County 84-37 in a 2013 game in Platte City.
This return home turned out to be much more eventful and stressful.
Platte County led by more than 20 points in the second half before a furious rally allowed Lafayette to avoid an upset with a dramatic 65-62 win. The Pirates were up 53-29 with about 10 minutes left but tried to rest key players in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
Kobe Cummings, a junior guard and one of only three players for Platte County with significant varsity experience, went to the bench with four fouls. In addition, DeAndre Rollins suffered a back injury in the first half and did not return.
“Our kids were gassed. Boy, they were tired and in foul trouble,” Platte County coach Rick Hodge said. “And we still had a whole fourth quarter to play.”
Lafayette scored five points in the first 53 seconds of the fourth quarter to draw within single digits, and the fight to the finish was on.
Diego Bernard, the Irish’s star junior guard, led the comeback hitting 3-pointers from the left wing on back-to-back possessions sandwiched around a three-point play for Platte County junior forward John Watts. The second made it 60-56 with 3:01 left, and the Pirates scored just two more points.
Lafayette’s Trey Washington missed two free throws with 30.4 seconds left that could’ve given the Irish the lead.
On the other end, Watts missed a shot at the rim, but Cummings (15 points) corralled the loose ball and called a contested timeout with 16.4 seconds left. Washington stole the ensuing inbounds pass and converted a layup with time winding down to put Lafayette ahead for the first time.
Irish sophomore guard Ike Book then stole a long outlet pass intended for Platte County junior center Lucas Stanley, leading to another layup as time expired.
“We left it out there. They played hard,” Hodge said. “They’ve shown us a lot. We’re just having a hard time right now closing out games. We had a couple of bad turnovers there late that just gave the ball back to them and gave them more opportunities.”
The loss dropped Platte County to 1-5 overall, but the Pirates have held a halftime lead in five of six games so far this season.
In this one, Platte County scored the first five points and quickly pushed the advantage to 15-6 on a quick surge from Cummings and Stanley. Cummings converted a three-point play, and after one of three blocks for Watts on the other end, Cummings had a tip-in.
Stanley then hit back-to-back shots. In a breakout performance, he scored seven straight points, including a 3-pointer, to extend Platte County’s lead to double digits in the second quarter.
“We’ve been talking a lot about how guys kind of feel like putting on a Lafayette jersey makes them Lafayette basketball players, and this group really hasn’t earned it yet,” said Nichols, who took over after Lafayette went to the Class 4 state championship game for a second time in three seasons a year ago. “There’s no doubt we overlooked them in the first half, and Platte County’s too good to overlook.”
Stanley, Watts, JP Post and Deiondre Ragsdale (10 points) make up a core of juniors with virtually no experience who have helped fuel an exciting start despite the disappointing results for Platte County. Cummings hit two free throws and added a steal and a layup to make it an 11-1 run off of Stanley’s buckets, and Watts pushed it further with back-to-back tip-ins.
Cummings’ shot in the lane with 5 seconds left sent Platte County into halftime with a 40-20 lead after Bernard’s 3 at the buzzer hit the back iron.
“Yes, there’s positives, lots of positives,” Hodge said even after the defeat.
Lafayette scored the first five points out of halftime but immediately gave up a run.
With Rollins out, Post picked up big minutes, especially on the defensive end, but fouls started to pile up for Platte County, which shot just 8 of 18 on free throws. Post, Stanley, Cummings and seniors Austin Gammill and Tanner Newberry (nine points) all ended up with four fouls.
Lafayette shot 34 free throws — 24 in the second half — despite Platte County packing into a zone late to try and alleviate the issues. The Irish scored 45 points in the second half, including 17 of Sterling Hicks’ 18 points coming the third quarter before he fouled out.
North Kansas City 70 Platte County 54
The Pirates were up early but struggled to contain the North Kansas City offense late on Tuesday, Dec. 6 in North Kansas City, Mo.
At halftime, Platte County led 29-25 on the strength of a good first quarter. The Hornets took the lead in the third quarter and then outscored the Pirates 28-16 over the final 8 minutes.
Ragsdale (14), Cummings (13) and Stanley (11) all scored in double figures.