By: Jonathan Pleasant
Johnson Countys eighth grade boys basketball team has a lot to be proud of. Not only have they shown remarkable versatility and adaptability after losing one of their key players, but actually took that drive and determination to go on and claim the top spot in their conference, even facing unusually tough competition across the board from teams like Happy Valley and Hampton.
In fact the Longhorns lost just two conference games this season, one of which was a surprising upset against the Chucky Doak Black Knights. Yet, even Head Coach Larry Bones Grindstaff admits there were times that even a couple of baskets could have made the difference. Chucky Doak snuck in on us, Grindstaff said. Theyre pretty tough this year, but most of our wins have been by two, four, or six points. Theyve had to struggle.
Those close calls included, Johnson County has had a lot of experience this season working under pressure, but with an extremely talented group of players including Nathan Arnold, Gage Hampton, Dawson Snyder, Jordan Edes, and Phillip Dugger leading the way there were also several big notable wins as well. According to Coach Grindstaff, possibly the biggest boost in confidence was a huge victory over the Hampton Bulldogs. Our biggest win this season had to be against Hampton, Grindstaff said. We beat them by 24 points. That game really boosted them up, but anytime you can beat Hampton it boosts them up.
Even a successful season has its downs along with the ups, and Johnson County faced theirs last week against Happy Valley in the first round of their district tournament. Having beaten the Warriors by just two points earlier in the year, the Longhorns knew they were facing a challenge, but with Happy Valley playing on their own court, Coach Grindstaff felt that this time they had a slight advantage.
We struggled against them all season, said Grindstaff. Theyre well coached and they have some good players, but any team plays better at home because thats all they shoot on. Its a bigger court and it seemed like it wore them down.
A slow first half saw the Longhorns trailing 19-27 early in the third baskets from both Edes and Arnold helped keep Johnson County in the running, cutting it back to 25-29 midways through the period. Happy Valley was quick to bounce back by the end of the period and had pushed the deficit back up towards the double digits by the start of the fourth.
The Warriors drive continued on for the next four minutes of game play, before eventually being interrupted by a three-point basket from Dawson Snyder. Arnold followed suit with a long shot of his own, but by that point Happy Valley was well ahead 33-46. Unwilling to chance their impending win, the Warriors continued to push the bill to the final buzzer eventually reigning in at 34-52.
Although cut short in their first matchup of the tourna¬ment, Coach Grindstaff still seemed very proud of the boys efforts overall this year and renewed his focus on trying to win in the second round next week.
They are playing team ball, Grindstaff said. Theyre pas¬sionate. Were just trying to hit the open shot. Trying to get one or two open that does shoot outside and work it in, but Happy Valley seemed like they handled us pretty good the other night. Getting them to work together, that was a struggle. Theres a lot of pressure on Nathan now. He has to work harder to get open and get the shots. Happy Valley hit their shots. Nathan couldnt get open, they played great defense against him. They just wanted it more. They had more heart.