Written by: Noah Bonner
To call the Smithville-Winnetonka boys basketball game a roller coaster ride would be an understatement.
“We were going to play hard, give it our all, and see what happens,” said senior Kellen Simoncic.
In a physical game that featured multiple point swings and nearly a dozen lead changes, the Warriors made just enough plays to pick up a 53-51 upset win over the Griffins, their first Friday night home win in three years.
Winnetonka got off to a fast start, taking an early 7-2 lead before Smithville came back and claimed the lead with a Kellen Simoncic three-pointer.
“I was feeling calm and ready to sink some shots,” said Simoncic, who led all players with 20 points.
Although Smithville took the lead into the second quarter, it was Winnetonka that went on a run of their own. The Griffins outscored the Warriors 13-5 in the period to take a 20-14 into halftime, thanks to a burst of scoring in the final 30 seconds from WHS guard Jacob Williamson, along with a few forced turnovers and defensive stops.
“We were playing hard defensively. We were getting good shots on offense but they just weren’t going in,” said Smithville coach Dru Linebach. “Our mindset was to keep shooting and the ball was going to go in. We had a few turnovers but were able to bounce back the right way.”
His squad did just that. The Warriors came out firing on all cylinders in the third quarter, going on a 17-2 run to take a 31-17 lead. What proved to be the difference during the run was being aggressive on both ends of the floor and implementing a half-court trap that forced multiple turnovers.
However, the game wasn’t over just yet. The Griffins slowly climbed their way back into the game, cutting the lead to six heading into the fourth quarter and eventually getting it to a one-possession game. Even when the game seemed to be decided with the Warriors up nine with three minutes to go, Winnetonka made one last push. Following two clutch free throws from SHS guard Spencer Miller, the Griffins tied the game with ten seconds to go with a deep corner three.
Then, there was the blocking foul called on WHS forward Nate Triplett with six seconds left. With both teams in the bonus, this sent Simoncic to the line to take the lead. No pressure right?
“If you think of it like any other shot you just put pressure on yourself,” Simoncic said.
“I was more nervous than [Kellen] was,” added Linebach. “I was very confident but it was also nerve-racking. I’m proud of him.”
Simoncic hit both free throws to make it a 53-51 game in favor of the Warriors. That proved to be the difference as Winnetonka failed to sink a buzzer beater three, giving the game to the Warriors.
“It felt great,” he said. “We won so that’s all that matters”
The win gave Smithville their first win since the third game of the season at the Savannah Tournament back in November, a blowout win over Bishop LeBlond. What’s even more important about the victory is the fact that it was both the Warriors’ first district win of the season and their first every Suburban Conference victory.
“It feels pretty good,” said senior co-captain Ethan Kershaw, who had 10 points and 6 rebounds on the night. “I go out there every night and try to get us a win. There’s pain in every part of my face and I rolled my ankle. I just tried to make it through. I’m happy for win number two.”
For Coach Linebach, he said the difference in the game was the court-advantage. He emphasizes his appreciation for the home crowd always coming out in numbers for their games, even when the team was struggling.
“Our home crowd was fantastic,” Linebach said. “Winnetonka was good and that energy helped us bounce back from some mistakes.”
Linebach continued, “Winnetonka’s a very good basketball team. Our guys needed that. We’ve played hard but just haven’t come up with a whole lot of wins. We anticipated a close game coming into it and, credit to our guys, they made enough plays to come up with the win.”
Looking ahead, the Warriors have big games coming up on their schedule, taking on conference and district rival Platte County on the road January 14th before the mid-season Cameron Tournament. They’ll face Winnetonka again on the 29th in Gladstone.
Points: Kellen Simoncic (20)
Assists: Spencer Miller (3)
Rebounds: Ethan Kershaw (6)
Points: Jacob Williamson (18)
Assists: #13 (5)