by John Unrein
It is not a normal occurrence when varsity starters get pulled from the game with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Thus was the case for the Grain Valley Lady Eagles head basketball coach Randy Draper. The accelerator was left on the floorboard by Draper’s team during the first three quarters of action. The result was Grain Valley leading by 31 points at the end of the third quarter in route to a 55-16 victory over the Belton Pirates on February 22nd.
Belton had a few members of their varsity roster unavailable, including scoring dynamo Kyndal Lewis that put up 18 points for her team during their last matchup with Grain Valley in December. Belton Pirate head basketball coach Brad Batchelder remained true to his heavy pick and roll offense. Guard Kennedy Moss substituted in the role at the top of the point and was fruitful in her efforts by producing 9 points as her team’s leading scorer.
Draper deployed a man to man defense in stopping the Pirates offense. Grain Valley would continue to send the screened defender under the pick, while having the free defender go to the open high side of the lane in denying further options. Draper’s defensive steering produced results. The Lady Eagles delivered 10 steals, 30 rebounds, and 13 assists as a team.
Grain Valley was consistent in poking out the basketball when presented and stepping in front of passes to hasten the transition game going the other way. Draper’s squad continues to play more comfortably at a fast pace in keeping their eyes up as they progress down the floor with unselfish passing leading to easier scoring opportunities. Something that has been pushed by Draper in practice.
“Our defense did their job early on and permitted us to produce a scoring gap with the lead. We did get away with a couple of blown assignments on defense that we will definitely shore up,” Draper said.
“I like how we played tonight. There’s a right way to play regardless (of your opponents’ status). It doesn’t matter. They (Belton) were missing a heck of a player tonight. We know that and sometimes that gets a team in trouble. You have to respect the game and play hard because every opponent deserves it.”
Draper continued, “I thought we shared the ball well tonight. Our pace is so much better than it was earlier in the season. That makes the game much more fun to watch.”
“Getting to provide rest to your varsity players allows opportunity for others. It also avoids the risk of injury as you head towards district play. We got work done tonight without exhausting our kids.”
Draper finished, “The way we are playing right now makes it harder for teams to sit on Grace (Slaughter). Sprinting and sharing the ball with this pace of play, it’s fun, so let’s go.”
Grace Slaughter produced a double-double as the game’s leading scorer with 30 points. The sophomore point guard’s stat line would also include 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. Slaughter made it difficult for defenders guarding her to pick a side to favor. The ability to be ambidextrous while dribbling and shooting gives Slaughter an advantage she continues to capitalize on as she reads defenses.
Joining Slaughter as a strong supporting cast member in the Lady Eagles victory was Jordyn Weems. The senior would produce 5 points, 2 steals, and 2 assists. Weems was not shy about limiting the space she provided to her opponent. Growth for Weems is also apparent during transition as her confidence in where she places the basketball with her passing taxes the defense.
“I am so proud of us. We talked after the game about where we are now with our pace of play. It pays off to run down the court before your opponent can set up their defense and the scoring opportunities that leads to. We are also executing (our offense) better when teams do get back and set up defensively. I still think we have room to improve defensively and continuing to get feistier when blocking out,” Slaughter said.
Weems added, “I just focus on getting going defensively as soon as we get out there. I know that if we do that, we won’t stop. It builds our intensity and that makes us hard to stop.”
“I am too much on my toes at times (defensively) and I suppose that gets me in trouble. I anticipate where the ball is going to be, and I go get it.”
Grain Valley (12-6) will open the Class 6 District 14 Tournament on February 27th against Lee’s Summit North.
Senior Jordyn Weems works on defense to deny her opponent space.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Sophomore Grace Slaughter drains a three point shot attempt.
Photo credit: Valley News staff