Eagles advance to district semifinal after winning conference
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Will Erby, a four-year starter on the Brentwood High School basketball team, called it “the craziest game I’ve ever played in.”
Brentwood’s nine-year head coach Brad Kern said he’s never seen anything like it.
Sitting in the locker room afterward, Marc Powells’ reaction was simply, “Oh my goodness.”
They were all reacting to the impossible play that sent Brentwood’s game with John Burroughs into overtime on Monday night in the Class 3 District 4 tournament. The play that so ignited the Eagles and extinguished the Bombers that it’s Brentwood who will play in the semifinals against host Whitfield on Wednesday.
It looked as if Brentwood’s season was over when Erby’s jump shot missed the mark with two seconds left in regulation. Leading by two, all Burroughs had to do was complete an inbounds pass and dribble a few times to silence the pesky Brentwood team it had thumped by 11 less than two weeks earlier.
Nobody in the Whitfield gym liked Brentwood’s chances at that point. Erby, a senior, was so crushed by missing what he thought was the last jumper of his high school career that his normally placid face showed disappointment.
“I know you’re not supposed to ever give up,” he said later, “but I was thinking that was it.”
But with :02.1 still showing on the clock, Burroughs’ Henry Rogers still needed to complete the inbounds pass from under Brentwood’s basket, so during a timeout Kern put the long-armed, 6-foot-3 Powells on him. As the players broke from the timeout and took their places, Powells heard a familiar voice from Brentwood’s small cheering section.
“I heard my mom telling me to get big and jump around,” Powells said.
He did, and when Rogers tried to pass low, Powells swatted it down. Miraculously, the ball stayed inbounds. Powells grabbed it and rocketed upward, banking in a basket on the left side and drawing a foul from Rogers to boot. A high-pitched, collective scream rose from Brentwood’s bleacher – a sudden realization that the score was tied and Powells would step to the line to win the game with one-tenth of a second left.
“I was jumping around and I knew where he was going with the ball, I just read him,” said Powells. “I reached out, it hit my hand down low and the ball rolled on our baseline. I was like, ‘Oh my God, it hit my hand.’ I grabbed it and shot it.”
Powells looked crestfallen after missing the free throw but was repeatedly hugged on the sideline during the break before the four-minute overtime period. His incredible play had ignited his teammates and they would soon find out that it had rattled the Bombers.
“After that we just, it was just like something lit in us,” said Powells. “The momentum went our way and we never looked back.”
In the overtime, Powells won the tip-off and sank a three-pointer from the corner. Seconds later, Torrie Robinson got a steal and a layup to make it 54-49 with 3:30 left. When Burroughs passed out of bounds it looked as if the team had lost its composure.
Meanwhile Brentwood was getting big plays even from guys who’ve been role players most of the season, including Robinson’s steal and layup and a huge rebound from Kenya Thompson.
Burroughs’ Sachit Bhat sank two three pointers to draw to within two with 20 seconds left. Erby hit a free throw at :18 to inch the lead back to three points, forcing Bhat’s errant three-point attempt at the buzzer. The Eagles won 58-55.
In the locker room afterward, the Eagles looked happy but exhausted. Erby lay flat on his back on the floor. He’d contributed 16 points, five assists and three steals. He’d drawn heat away from Powells, who had made 11 of 17 field goals, scored 26 points and had four steals.
“Champions play in games like that, they find a way to win,” Kern told them. “You guys found a way to win Friday and you found a way to win tonight. Isn’t it fun?”
“Yeah!” the players shouted.
“You guys are playing your hearts out,” Kern continued. “You’re playing smart. This is probably the two best games in a row that I’ve ever seen a team play in my years here.”
A few minutes later Floyd was getting his things together for the bus ride back to Brentwood.
“It just gave us another chance, you know?” he said of Powells’ play. “He knew he had to step up in the big time so he did and it kept us in the game. Some underclassmen stepped up too. Role players like Kenya came off the bench and played great defense for us. Big shots, big steals, all that. It was exciting. We get to practice another day.”
Brentwood returns to Whitfield School to play the host team in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26. The Eagles, 16-8, are seeded No. 5 and Whitfield, 16-7, are No. 1. The Warriors beat the Eagles by 14 on Jan. 22. The winner will play the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2 Maplewood and No. 3 Lutheran St. Peters.
Victory Despite Turmoil
The Eagles have won three games in a row and 10 of their last 12. Last week they wrapped up their second consecutive conference title. It’s the first time the boys program has done that since 1990 and 1991, 23 years ago. BHS won conference in 1981, 1990, 1991, 2004, 2013 and 2014.
The success in recent weeks is surprising considering what the team has been through during that time. Kern said they have lost five players for various disciplinary reasons: seniors Josh Moreno, Justice Bratcher and Xavier Bratcher, junior Malik Kelly, and another junior varsity player. Moreno, 18, was arrested on Feb. 14 for carrying a loaded firearm onto the team bus after a game at Principia on Feb. 6. Kern declined to comment on the other players who were removed from the roster.
Justice was a starting guard and Xavier and Moreno played frequently on the varsity team.
“We had some unfortunate mistakes by individuals that’s going to cost them a lot more than basketball games,” Kern said on Feb. 18. “You feel bad, you’re sad and you hope people can learn from things and move forward and grow from it. You hope that’s what happens. I know it was an emotionally tough stretch for all the kids on the team. They went through some things that a teenage student normally doesn’t have to go through. It affected them in some games. We’re just trying to make it through that and to look forward. It was a tough week, physically and mentally and then everything on top of it. It was a rough four or five days there.”
Brentwood went 8-0 in the South Central AA Conference despite losing starting guard Justice Bratcher and frequent bench players Xavier Bratcher and Moreno for the season’s final couple of weeks. A 57-54 victory over second-place Bayless on Feb. 21 ended the regular season.
When asked if the turmoil might have made the team more cohesive, Kern replied, “It definitely pulls us together. When any team goes through something like this it pulls the players together, the ones who are actually doing the right thing.”
Kern is especially pleased with how the bench players have responded.
“I couldn’t be more happy with Torrie [Robinson], Skylar [Sappington], Kenya, Jack [Wright] and those guys,” he said. “They accepted their role, they’re not trying to go out and put up 10 shots a game. They know what they need to do to help us win and they’re doing it to perfection in the last two games.”