Last year, the Belton Pirates had their season put to an end at the hands of Ruskin High School in the first round of the District Tournament. After then-junior Lewis Wilkins put his team on his back, scoring more than twenty points in the fourth quarter, the Pirates came back to tie the game with five seconds left in the contest. The Eagles would break that tie at the buzzer with a half-court prayer that fell through the hoop.
The Pirates’ first game of the 2013-2014 season felt a lot like that.
Raymore-Peculiar hosted Belton in the two teams’ annual season-opening event which draws a full house year after year. With both student bodies showing up in big numbers and the noise level creating a District Championship-like atmosphere, the Panthers went on to please the home crowd and the students rushed the court in celebration of the victory.
After letting a 13-point halftime lead slip away, Ray-Pec regained their advantage and won the game 54-49.
The game started as a low-scoring affair, not uncommon for teams at the high school level working out their first game jitters. Junior Ben Harris scored the first two points for the Panthers and sophomore James Sappington collected three of his nine total rebounds over the first eight minutes.
“Our inside game — I was relatively pleased with that,” said Panthers’ head coach Scott Jermain after the game. The coach would often substitute four players at a time during dead balls, showing the depth of the Ray-Pec bench and testing the waters for who might step up into their roles.
“We’re a young team. A lot of times we had four sophomores and a junior out on the court. That’s hard to do at this level,” Jermain continued.
Belton could not get into an offensive groove, scoring only three points in the entire first quarter — all from free throws.
After finishing the first quarter down 10-3, the Pirates came out firing in the second quarter. Senior Levi Washington drilled two of his eventual five three-pointers at the start of the quarter, making the score 12-9 with just under 6:30 to go before halftime.
That seemed to be the motivation the Panthers needed. After Washington netted his second shot from behind the arc, Ray-Pec went on an 11-1 tear, getting several offensive rebounds and put-backs from their star forward, Harris. The big junior went on to finish the game with a double-double, scoring 13 points and collecting ten rebounds.
At halftime, Raymore-Peculiar led 28-15.
In the third quarter, Belton turned up the heat. Washington, who made a third three-point shot in the second quarter, put two more long-rangers through the hoop in the third, his second one making the score 30-27 with just under four to play in the quarter.
Junior guard Daren Johnson got in on the scoring for the Pirates, scoring all of his seven points in the stretch, knocking down a three and a pair of free throws along the way. Junior forward Christian Asaeli scored five of his seven points in the third.
Down six points heading into the fourth, Belton would incredibly take their first lead of the game with five minutes to go. The Pirates’ senior leader Lewis Wilkins was fouled on a jumper that went in, pulling his team within one point of the home team. After a Ray-Pec timeout, Wilkins drilled his shot from the charity stripe, tying the game at 44 with 5:40 to go.
Seconds later, senior forward Cody Mullins pulled down an offensive board and cashed in on a two-foot chip-in, putting Belton on top 46-44.
“What else can you ask for in a basketball game than an opportunity to win it at the end?” Belton head coach Greg Martin said afterwards.
“It shows me a lot about what they’re made of. And when you have kids like that who are willing to do it, the trick is to get them to do it 32 minutes instead of 24 minutes. When we get that, we’re going to do some pretty special things.”
Raymore-Peculiar, obviously taken aback by their rivals’ surge, was able to regroup and focus for the last minutes of the contest.
Sophomore Nick Janssen put the Panthers back into a tie with the Pirates, scoring a layup to knot it at 46 apiece. Sappington gave his team the lead again seconds later with an offensive put-back.
As time began to slip away, senior Mario Holman showed up at the free throw line two different times to ice the game for Ray-Pec. Holman cashed in three of the four shots, bringing his game total to 12 points and helping his team earn the 54-49 victory.
“To do what we had to do to get the lead back and win the game — that was pretty big,” Coach Jermain stated.
“That was a big growing up moment for a real young team.”
Next week, both teams will be participating in Ray-Pec’s Varsity Basketball Tournament. The tourney is one of the most competitive in the KC Metro area and will challenge both squads very early in the season.
“We had a long time to get ready and now we have to figure things out quickly,” said Coach Martin.
The tournament begins Tuesday night.