by John Unrein
Grain Valley Lady Eagles Head Basketball Coach Randy Draper had an intense stare on his face Friday, January 31st during his team’s 54-46 victory over the Raymore-Peculiar Panthers during the championship game of the 22nd Annual Grain Valley Basketball Tournament.
Draper dug deep into his coaching toolbox as he intended to hinder the Panthers offense by showing them multiple defenses early in the game. The tactic worked as Draper opened the game with a full court press, followed by a half court trap, and a 2-3 zone before switching to man defense. Mixing up the defenses permitted the Eagles to gain a 14-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Draper confirmed his defensive strategy was intended to keep the Panthers from getting into rhythm and having to adjust to what Grain Valley was doing.
“We made changes defensively because we thought pressure would affect them. We had a player out tonight with an ankle injury and we weren’t as deep as usual. I had to protect tonight because we couldn’t press and trap as long as I would’ve liked,” Draper said.
“Our zone defense was effective early until we had trouble blocking out (for rebounds) and then we went man. It avoided them getting comfortable. I thought our best man defensive possession tonight ended with Jordyn Weems getting to basket with a layup on the other end. Our team is starting to develop toughness and it was on display tonight as this was a challenging game for us.”
Ray-Pec was the taller team and used its height to their benefit in the second quarter when they out rebounded Grain Valley. That advantage led to easy put backs for the Panthers when they shaved the Eagles’ lead to two points going into halftime by a score of 26-24.
Grace Slaughter poured in a trio of three point baskets in the third quarter that put Grain Valley ahead for good at the 2:49 mark. Slaughter led all scorers with 29 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in a monumental effort.
Slaughter credited her team’s unselfish passing of the basketball as the reason for their victory.
“Our team definitely made good passes tonight. We ran hard and played tight defense. The ball had to be moved effectively because it wasn’t easy getting by their bigs (post players). We haven’t played a team that tall yet this year,” Slaughter said.
“Patience was key on offense. Draper told us before the game that we were going to have to insist on passing the ball until a window opened. I tend to look to drive first if I get the ball and there’s an opening. Tonight, my shoot was on and felt good, so I kept shooting.”
Slaughter was not alone in sharing the load in the win or for the tournament. Teammates Keely Hill and Malia Guttierrez were honored with medals along with Slaughter as part of the all-tournament team.
Guttierrez scored all seven of her points in Grain Valley’s victory from the free throw stripe. The Junior Guard was consistent with the basketball in turning the corner on drives and attempting shots at the basket. This was derived from the Eagles motion offense that eventually wore down Ray-Pec in the fourth quarter.
Guttierrez made the choice to be aggressive in getting to the basket due to her jump shot not being there early in the game.
“The drives to the basket was a second approach for me because my other shots weren’t falling. I was trying to go up strong and draw fouls in getting to the basket,” Guttierrez said.
“Confidence plays a big key in our offense. If everyone is confident in handling and passing the basketball in our motion offense, one of us is going to get an open look. You are not tired when you are determined to play with energy.”
Grain Valley as the second seat in the tournament was able to upset Ray-Pec, who was the first seat in the tournament.
Draper took a moment to enjoy the win after the game and explained why he was proud of his team.
“I told them before the game, look, what I’m asking you to do is not going to be easy, but it will allow us to win. We played tight defense tonight and found the open player on offense. I’m so proud of this team.”