by Michael Smith
COLUMBIA -- Grain Valley senior Grace Slaughter did everything she could to keep the girls basketball team in the game.
The Eagles were competing in the Class 6 District 7 championship game against Columbia Rock Bridge Tuesday at Columbia Hickman High School.
The star forward scored all of Grain Valley’s six fourth quarter points and had 25 total, but it wasn’t enough in a 51-41 season-ending loss.
The Bruin guards played excellent defense on the Eagles on the perimeter, hounding ball handlers and making it difficult for Grain Valley to drive to the basket or feed interior passes to Slaughter or senior forward Ella Clyman.
“They were very good on perimeter defense, just making it hard to move the ball quickly,” Slaughter said, “and run our stuff basically.”
That was especially evident in the fourth quarter. Grain Valley missed its first eight shots and shot just 2 of 14 from the floor. The Eagles didn’t get their first basket in the final period until Slaughter converted on a conventional 3-point play with about 1 minute and 30 seconds left on the clock.
That cut Rock Bridge’s lead to 42-38, but the Eagles struggled to score in the period and the Bruins made 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch to seal it.
The Eagles still managed to get off to a good start as they shot 5-for-10 from the field in the first half to take a 11-8 going into the second.
Rock Bridge came back and dominated in the paint, scoring 10 out of their 13 second-quarter points at that area on the floor. A 6-foot-4 forward, Jayda Porter, gave Grain Valley fits on the interior.
“Them having a big presence down low makes it tough to guard everyone,” Slaughter said. “We don’t really have that big presence. We just had to help on her and scramble back and try to get in shooters faces. They had some open looks, but better than letting her get shot down low.”
She scored four of her 10 points in the second and also sometimes discouraged Grain Valley guards from driving to the basket because of her shoot blocking presence in the middle. An and-one from Bruin senior Addie Hopkins made it 22-14 late in the second but the Eagles closed out the quarter on a 4-0 run, capped by Slaughter’s putback layup at the buzzer to make it 22-18 heading into halftime.
The Eagles came out hot in the third period, shooting 8-for-12 from the floor. They slowly chipped away at the lead and tied the game at 31-all following a nice pass from junior guard Annabelle Totta to Clyman, who used a head fake to get a Rock Bridge defender to jump early as she put in a layup.
After getting a stop on defense, the Eagles took the lead back after Slaughter made a left-handed hook shot from the baseline to make it 33-31. Both team’s exchanged buckets from there as sophomore Mari Miller, who scored 19 points, connected on a three and Slaughter made a jumper.
After Slaughter’s score made it 35-34, Grain Valley, Grain Valley got a defensive stop to give itself the opportunity to increase the lead with under a minute left. However, the Eagles turned the ball over on an errant pass out of bounds gave Rock Bridge the ball back with 6.3 seconds left in the period.
The Bruins broke Grain Valley’s press and Porter scored on an open layup to give her team a 36-35 lead going into a fourth quarter.
“We didn’t have a great possession at the end of the third,” Grain Valley head coach Randy Draper said, “so the leads go right back to them. We stressed a little in the fourth and got out of our rhythm.”
“We got our offense going in the third quarter and I liked a lot of the things we were doing. They got to dictate the game in the fourth and play slower offense.”
The Eagles ended their season with a 23-5 record and will lose Slaughter, Clyman and Camryn Bown to graduation. Slaughter ended her high school career with a whopping 2,575 points, which is good for 14th all time among girls basketball players in Missouri.
“It’s heartbreaking knowing that I can’t come back and play in a Grain Valley jersey again,” Slaughter said. “There is no one else I would rather play for.”
Added Clyman: “It feels weird. It hasn’t hit me yet (that the season is over), but it will soon.”
Grain Valley junior Finley LaForge drives to the basket as she has a Rock Bridge player defending her. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley senior Grace Slaughter drives to the basket as she tries to get around Rock Bridge freshman Jayden Porter. Slaughter scored a game-high 25 points in a 51-41 loss to the Bruins Tuesday in the Class 6 District 6 Championship game. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley senior Ella Clyman whips a pass to a teammate. Photo credit: Michael Smith