by Michael Smith
Every day in practice, Grain Valley veteran girls basketball coach Randy Draper said he likes to have his players go at a fast pace most of the time.
That’s because he will sometimes need his team to play fast during games and the Eagles showed they could do just that in Monday’s season opener against St. Joseph Lafayette.
Utilizing a zone press and a motion offense that involved a lot of off-ball movement, Grain Valley cruised to a 61-30 victory against the Fighting Irish in the first round of the Winnetonka Invitational.
The Eagles advance to play Raymore Peculiar in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Winnetonka High School.
“I think our skill level and our athletic ability will allow us to go,” Draper said. “We moved a lot in the second half and played with a lot more focus on offense in the second half.”
“We practice fast. Because you don’t want to go to the game and do something new. We don’t always press that much but we needed to get it going.”
After Grain Valley took a 17-11 lead after one period, the team utilized a zone press that gave Lafayette fits and helped create 11 turnovers and 14 fast-break points. The Eagles won the quarter 18-5 and took a commanding 35-16 lead into halftime.
“It’s something that really gets our legs going,” Grain Valley junior Grace Slaughter said. “If we realize we need to fall back into a zone, we can defend on how they’re handling the ball. We get ready to try and get some traps, some steals, and easy buckets.
Added sophomore Finley LaForge: “When we get a couple of steals back to back, it gets us super pumped up. On offense, we are pushing the ball and it helps us play better.”
In the second half, the Eagles didn’t use the press as much and went to a more motion heavy offense in the halfcourt and saw all four players who didn’t have the ball of their hands, moving constantly trying to get open and cutting to the basket.
Junior Grace Slaughter and sophomore Annabelle Totta scored four points each on open layups received on backdoor cuts in the second half. Their team took a 45-18 lead into the fourth period and cruised to a 16-12 fourth quarter edge against the Fighting Irish.
“When we are all moving and know we need to cut, we might get a couple of easy baskets when they are playing heavy on the ball side,” Slaughter said. “When Finley and I are on the same side, that backdoor is going to be open.”
Added LaForge: “When we are moving off the ball like that, we are at our best.”
Slaughter led the Eagles with a game-high 32 points, including 21 points in the first half and including a trio of three-pointers, all coming from the corner spots. Sophomore McKenah Sears added eight points.
Grain Valley junior Grace Slaughter gets tied up by a St. Joseph Lafayette defender while driving to the basket. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley sophomore McKenah Sears prepares to shoot a free throw. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior Ella Clyman drives to the basket. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley sophomore Finley LaForge tosses up a shot on the fast break. Photo credit: Michael Smith