Heading into the Class 4 District 14 tournament, it seemed as if the top two seeds, Grandview and Grain Valley – which had just three losses each – were on a collision course for a district final showdown. The Notre Dame de Sion Storm had other ideas.
Eagles coach Randy Draper and company knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, even against a 13-13 team. It was anything but when the Storm knocked off Grain Valley 52-36 in the semifinals Tuesday.
“We knew they were going to be good,” Grain Valley senior Sarah Turner said. “We were so nervous before the game. We thought we could pull through, but we tried our best. That's all you can ask for.”
One of the reasons the Eagles thought facing Sion would be a big challenge was because of Sion's Camielle Keane, whose 19 points led all scorers. A pair of her transition buckets put the Storm up 42-30 with 3:36 left. From there, the Eagles wouldn't get any closer than 10, as the Storm shot 8 of 10 in the final minutes to seal it.
“She's a really good player,” Eagles junior Aerreon Parker said of Keane. “Coach told me before the game that I needed to try and keep the ball out of her hands. I couldn't help off, and I knew she was a great shooter, so I couldn't give her any space. She was tough to guard.”
On defense, the Storm utilized a 3-2 zone, which seemed to take Grain Valley out of an offensive rhythm for the majority of the game.
“We knew it was coming,” Draper said, “but in the second half we started to get the ball moving more and started attacking the basket. We stayed on the perimeter a lot in the first half and started to slice through it some in the second.”
The Eagles, however, shot 31 percent for the game and committed 23 turnovers against an active Sion defense that seemed to get a hand on the ball every other possession.
“They're long and tall,” Turner said. “We were used to playing against smaller teams. We weren't used to playing against that type of competition.”
It felt like a lid was on the basket when the Storm led 10-6 in a first quarter, a period the Eagles made just two field goals. Grain Valley took its only lead of the game at 12-10 after Kendyll Bailey's 3-pointer in a little over a minute into the second. Sion closed out the quarter on a 10-4 run, however, to go into the locker room ahead 20-14.
“I was really pleased with how we played defensively, but you have to score more than 14,” Draper said of the first half. “Offensively, we didn't shoot it as well as we needed to. We got some good shots they just didn't go in it. It took us a little bit to get into a rhythm.”
It seemed like the No. 3 seed was going to run away with it Jenna Bolton's layup pushed the advantage to 11. The Eagles slowly started to chip away, and thanks to eight third-quarter points from Turner, they cut it to 33-26 heading into the final period.
Bailey received a behind-the-back pass from Parker and laid the ball in to cut it to four with 6:42 left. That’s when Keane took over, scoring eight points down the stretch.
With 1:36 left and facing an insurmountable lead, Draper knew it was time to pull his seniors for one last ovation. He started with Turner, who led the team with 11 points. She had trouble fighting back tears as Draper embraced her with a hug.
“Oh boy, I think I'm going to cry, but that's OK,” Turner said. “I grew up playing basketball, so I knew after this year I am done. It was sad. I am going to miss playing with all of these guys.”
Just a few seconds later, Draper took out the rest of the seniors, who helped put together a 21-4 season and capture an undefeated Missouri River Valley Conference West championship.
“We had a great season,” Draper said. “Twenty-one wins is a lot. We won a couple of big tournaments. There's a lot of good things our senior class helped get laid down.”