by John Unrein
“Never mess with a streak,” Lady Eagles Assistant Basketball Coach Pete Carpino said when asked if it was consecutive games he had worn a sweater vest. In fact, the whole Grain Valley Lady Eagles Basketball Coaching Staff were clad in sweater vests during their 36-27 Class 4 Playoff win on March 10th against the Nevada Lady Tigers. The fashion trend started when the Eagles won the District Championship against the Center Yellowjackets the week prior.
The first quarter got off to a slow start for both teams. Grain Valley came away empty from their first four offensive possessions before Head Coach Randy Draper called a timeout and encouraged his team to relax. Nevada was slow to score as well, due to Draper starting the game defensively in a 1-3-1 zone that stymied his opponent’s ability to swing the ball and shoot from behind the arc.
Tough defense displayed by both teams allowed for meager scoring early in the game. Grain Valley managed just one basket and trailed by a score of 4-2 after the opening period.
Nevada opened the second quarter attacking the bottom and baselines of Grain Valley’s 1-3-1 zone with success. Their momentum was halted with 5:31 left in the period when Freshman Grace Slaughter blocked a shot on the wing and went coast to coast for a layup. The basket gave the Eagles an 8-6 lead. Grain Valley would go into halftime ahead by the score of 14-10.
Draper discussed his strategy and team’s effort.
“Our zone is a little bit different in the rules we play it under. We were fearful the whole time. I will tell you I had my hand on the button to go man the whole night. They (Nevada) had three players that concerned us with how well they shoot the basketball,” Draper said.
“We are able to cover so much ground with our zone due to the way that (Malia) Guttierrez, (Jordyn) Weems, and (Keely) Hill run. We needed to find out if playing our zone would limit their ability to shoot from behind the arc, and it held true for us.”
Draper concluded, “Offensively, we were patient in moving the ball and making them guard us. Grace (Slaughter) is known for her ability to pass, shoot, and dribble the basketball. She can also play defense, and her length allows her to be disruptive. Her steal and block tonight gave us sparks when we needed them.”
Grain Valley went on an 8-0 run during the first three minutes of the third quarter. Juniors Weems and Guttierrez each sunk three pointers during that span. They benefited from an adjustment made by Draper and his staff due to how Nevada was collapsing on Slaughter as she moved through the lane.
The Eagles would set screens along the baseline and key to allow players to move across the lane and overload a side. This often left an open shooter on the wing or took defensive pressure off Slaughter in the middle to where she had a favorable matchup.
Guttierrez also contributed in other ways. Her made free throw with 2:04 left in the game gave her team a 9 point lead.
“It’s all about chemistry. I knew that if I didn’t make my free throws, my team would have my back. We went out and put it all on the line because every play matters. I’m proud of the energy we displayed,” Guttierrez said.
Weems added, “I wanted to do my best for my team out there. Winning this game is our reward.”
Slaughter was the Eagle’s leading scorer with 18 points, and had 2 rebounds, and 2 steals. Her biggest steal would come with 2:53 left in the fourth quarter. The result was a coast to coast transition basket by Slaughter that helped cement Grain Valley’s late lead.
“Our defense is what kept us in the game. The two three pointers coming right out of the half were key moments in the game as well. The ball movement and patience we displayed helped us overcome nerves we were feeling,” Slaughter said.
“All of this allowed us to have fun, which is what this game is about. I’ve never got to celebrate like that before. Jumping up and down was a natural reaction to having fun and playing with these girls.”
The Lady Eagles record improves to 20-7 with their victory. Grain Valley will next face Lincoln College Prep at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena at 6:00 pm on March 14th.
Draper noted that the next venue his team plays in will have an impact. When asked if it would be worthwhile to measure the height of the basket and the length of the free throw stripe as was done in the movie Hoosiers, Draper was honest with his answer.
“I don’t care what you measure, it’s going to affect us. It’s a big deal, we are about to play in a huge game. That’s awesome. I encouraged the team tonight before the game to not be so nervous that you can’t enjoy this opportunity. This is a game and games are meant to be fun. You want to soak this in and be glad you’re there,” Draper said.
Don’t be surprised if you see the Lady Eagles coaching staff on the bench dressed in dapper sweater vests.
Senior Savannah Scott fights for a loose ball.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
Junior Malia Guttierrez sinks a three point shot from the wing.
Photo credit: Valley News staff