The Junction City Blue Jays narrowly beat their big rival during Friday night’s game at home, beating Manhattan High School 58-57.
After Manhattan player Owen Braxmeyer missed a shot that could have won the game for MHS, Junction City's (7-7) bench erupted in excitement and rushed onto the court to celebrate the close win over its rival.
Junction City boys basketball head coach Nick Perez held his breath when he saw Braxmeyer drive into the lane.
“I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous, because (Braxmeyer) is a great player,” he said. “Usually when he gets into the paint, he is going to get fouled or he is going to finish. Luckily, we got a tip on the ball and got a rebound, but my anxiety was through the roof, for sure.”
Braxmeyer squatted to the ground, elbows resting on his thighs in disappointment, after his shot came up short.
“It is tough for our seniors,” MHS head coach Benji George said. “We talked about how much this game means to a lot of people. Even with the loss, I thought we battled hard, and we left it on the floor in terms of representing our program and community. That is all we can ask.”
“The struggles that we have had the last couple weeks, we have had guys out,” Perez said. “The confidence that we see coming from those kids was great. That is why we coach: to see the smiles on our kids' faces. But we have unfinished business. Keep moving forward. Keep doing those things. It is exciting to see our kids celebrate. Manhattan is a good team, and we will probably end up seeing them in the postseason.”
Junction City held the advantage for most of the first half. The first two quarters were tightly contested. It was knotted at 13 after the first period. A pair of 3-pointers for Junction City gave the hosts a 32-26 lead. And they were able to keep their foot on the gas to take a 44-37 advantage at halftime.
“We are better shooters now than we have been in the past,” Perez said. “We have three or four guys who can really shoot. When they get open, they are really good. We were trying to get shots and extend them.”
The visitors did not give up in the second half, however. The Indians came out of halftime hitting on all cylinders, making the latest chapter of this rivalry one to remember.
“(Manhattan) was aggressive,” Perez said. “Braxmeyer is a monster. Any time he can get downhill, he is either going to get fouled or he is going to finish. He did a great job of doing that right away in the third quarter. They just came out and made some shots. They got Braxmeyer going, and that is what we tried to not let them do.”