Griffin Burke has been watching the Battle of the Woods rivalry games since he was a fourth grader.
On Friday, he had some of the biggest moments on the stage he grew up dreaming of playing on in a District 11-AAA basketball showdown at Ravenwood High School.
And he did it with the weight of losing a loved one the same morning. Burke’s mom, Amy, lost her battle with cancer Friday morning. Burke said she would have wanted him to play, so the young man laced up and guided his team onto the court showing tremendous strength and poise all contest.
"I talked to my dad (Thursday night) and said my mom would want me to play tonight,” Burke said after scoring 13 points in a 60-53 overtime win. “She wouldn’t have wanted me to miss this opportunity. This means the world to me.”
“This definitely was a tough day,” the junior continued. “But I know that she’s smiling above me. She’s happy.”
Brentwood teammate and classmate John Windley said Burke showed “incredible strength” to be able to take the court and lead his team.
“I can’t comprehend how he did that tonight,” Windley said. “I know I couldn’t have done that. He played a great game. … it’s just incredible what he did tonight.”
Burke added five assists and three steals in the win. Early in the fourth quarter, he connected on back-to-back 3-pointers as Brentwood built a 40-33 lead with 6:11 to play.
“He’s an amazing young man,” Brentwood coach Greg Shirley said of Burke. “He’s not afraid of anything. He’ll take a shot in any situation and he hit those two big, big shots for us early in the fourth.”
Burke continued to guide the offense, while trying to contain Ravenwood’s leading scorer Rex Gainer on defense, before severe leg cramps crippled the Brentwood point guard over the final minute-and-a-half of regulation.
“Griffin was just battling the whole game,” said classmate Macen Redner, who added eight points including a 3-pointer in overtime. “It was amazing. We wanted to win it for Griffin.”
Without Burke on the floor down the stretch, Ravenwood forced two turnovers and Connor English knotted the contest at 45-45 when he knocked down an elbow jumper with 49 seconds to play in regulation. The Bruins tried to burn some clock, but again turned it over with 33 seconds to play when Rex Gainer swiped an entry pass into the post.
“Griffin is a big part of our team and at the end of the game, it showed how we needed him out there,” Windley said.
The Raptors had two looks on the final possession rim out – an open 3-pointer from English and a follow attempt from Trevor Andrews – as time expired in regulation.
Burke returned for the first two possessions of overtime before having to sit for good as the cramps continued. Jake Brock opened the extra session with a 3-pointer – his only basket of the night – and after a Brentwood stop at the other end, Redner connected his OT triple after Windley tracked down his own miss and kicked out. The Bruins led 51-45 with 2:06 remaining.
Redner tacked on two free throws with 1:43 to play before Ravenwood finally converted on a Jake Mulder drive to make it 53-47 with 1:32 on the clock. The Bruins, who went 8-of-9 at the line in overtime, received two more freebies from sophomore Aaron Walton with 1:20 left for a 55-47 cushion.
Ravenwood refused to quit.
English scored on a 3-pointer from the corner off a drive-and-dish from Nick Dang and Matt Willams scored on a baseline jumper after Dang poked the inbound loose to pull the home team within 55-52.
"We stepped up and made some plays, created some turnovers and knocked down some shots,” Ravenwood coach Patrick Whitlock said. “This is District 11-AAA and the reality is there is not a lot of separation between teams 1 and 8. … it’s going to be like this on Tuesdays and Fridays for the next four weeks.”
Windley was fouled quickly on the next inbound and sank both free throws with 47 seconds remaining for a 57-52 lead. The Raptors had two more looks miss and Walton was fouled and converted two more at the line to put the game out of reach.
“It was a classic Brentwood-Ravenwood game,” Windley said. “It just always seems like it’s going to be a close game and it showed again.”
Windley closed with 16, while Evan Drennan collected a dozen.
Burke ended the first half with two free throws after being fouled as time expired. He gave the Bruins a 20-17 edge at the break. Midway through the third, Burke fed Redner for a 3-pointer and a 28-21 lead. Windley slipped a pass to Drennan in the lane a possession later as Brentwood built a 30-21 lead with 2:47 left in the frame – the biggest lead of the contest.
Burke thanked his teammates for overcoming the pressure late. He was met with dozens of hugs postgame.
“I’m just so proud of our team and I’m so glad I could be able to do this for my mom,” he said. "This is ... it means the world to me.”
The Bruins improved to 11-4 overall and 5-0 in district play after the first of five league games on the road.
Brentwood boys 60, Ravenwood 53, OT
BHS – 9 11 12 13 15 – 60
RHS – 11 6 12 16 8 – 53
BHS (60) – John Windley 16, Griffin Burke 13, Jake Brock 3, Macen Redner 8, Aaron Walton 8, Evan Drennan 12.
RHS (53) – Trevor Andrews 1, Rex Gainer 16, Matt Williams 4, Nick Dang 8, Myles Pollard 2, Connor English 13, Jake Mulder 9.
3-point goals – BHS 9 (Windley 3, Burke 3, Redner 2, Brock), RHS 5 (English 3, Gainer 2). Total Fouls – BHS 18, RHS 19. Fouled Out – Dang.