by Michael Smith
COLUMBIA -- In 2022, the Grain Valley girls basketball team didn’t get to experience the postseason for long.
In a year in which star wing Grace Slaughter was out for the season with a torn ACL, Grain Valley fell to Columbia Battle 51-45 in the first round.
This season has gone much better for Eagles and that showed in the first round of the Class 6 District 7 Tournament against Fort Osage Thursday at Battle High School.
Things went so well, the Eagles got to play some of their junior varsity players in a 70-24 rout of the Indians.
Grain Valley plays Columbia Battle in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Battle High School.
“You want to swing the biggest stick you have this time of year,” said Grain Valley head coach Randy Draper, whose team is on a 12-game winning streak. “I feel really good with how we’re playing.”
Players like Nevaeh Clausen, Pyper Hartigan, Ava Bollinger, Aspen Reed and Addison Seyfert got their first taste of postseason action as they got to play in the fourth quarter holding a 63-16 going into the fourth quarter.
Draper said he was happy to reward some junior varsity players for their hard work in practice.
“They got some reward tonight and we wanted to make sure they understand that we appreciate them,” Draper said. “You have to have practice and they went through Fort’s stuff to help us get ready and we guarded what they did pretty good.”
Sophomore Camryn Kelly echoed Draper’s sentiments.
“Our JV did a really good job in practice running through what Fort was going to do,” Kelly said. “It was their hard work that helped us prepare. Last year, they didn’t get to experience that. They got to experience things that are hard for other teams to experience.”
Part of that preparation was preparing for the Indians offense. Well, the Eagles looked more than prepared on defense as they forced 15 Fort Osage turnovers and scored 21 points off of those.
Grain Valley defenders got into passing lanes, got deflections on the perimeter and used a zone press that flustered the Indians.
“Our defense was great, we were really pleased with that,” Draper said. “The defense caused some offense, which is always good.”
The Eagles (22-4) led 16-7 after the first period then blew the game wide open by taking a 38-13 halftime lead. Senior Grace Slaughter, who led her team with 19 points, highlighted the period with a pair of steals that led to fast-break baskets.
It also helped that Grain Valley was red hot from the 3-point line as it made 5 of 7 seven attempts. It continued to pour it on in the third, outscoring Fort Osage 27-3. Six different Eagles scored in the quarter, including Bollinger, who hit a baseline jumper.
Slaughter, who averages more than 30 points a game, had a game-high 21 points. She didn’t need to have her normal 30-point scoring game as Kelly chipped in with 13 and junior McKenah Sears added nine.
Kelly was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, with a trio of 3-pointers.
“It’s been mental,” Kelly said. “Before I have been hitting my shots, it’s just I was timid. Now, I am just letting it fly. If I have an inch of space, I am going to shoot it.”
Grain Valley senior Grace Slaughter prepares to go up for a fast break layup during a 70-24 win over Fort Osage in the first round of the Class 6 District 7 Tournament Thursday at Battle High School. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior Annabelle Totta prepares to put up a layup. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior Meghan Knust drives baseline. Photo credit: Michael Smith