Grain Valley girls basketball coach Randy Draper said he believed his team had enough stamina and mettle to withstand Liberty North’s late rally Saturday, even if he sensed a player wasn’t being completely honest with him about how tired they were.

Grain Valley girls basketball coach Randy Draper said he believed his team had enough stamina and mettle to withstand Liberty North’s late rally Saturday, even if he sensed a player wasn’t being completely honest with him about how tired they were.

Grain Valley sophomore Sarah Turner realized something that doesn’t lie often: an opponent’s eyes.
In Saturday’s Class 4 District 15 final at Oak Grove High School, Turner snared steals on consecutive possessions that she converted into four points down the stretch, stalling Liberty North’s second-half comeback just enough to help Grain Valley hold on for a 39-37 win.

After defending its district title, Grain Valley takes an 18-8 record into Wednesday’s sectional matchup at Liberty High School against Smithville.

Turner’s thefts came more than halfway through the fourth quarter, after Liberty North (8-16) sliced a 28-14 deficit from early in the third down to 33-29, fueled by eight points from point guard Selena Dunn.

First, Rachel Reddell managed a split at the free throw line after airballing the first attempt. Dunn tried to drive the baseline on the ensuing possession, but Turner came from help side, knocked the ball away as Dunn started to rise for a shot, and was fouled. She sank both ends of a one-and-one with 3:25 left.

Next, Turner stole a pass to the left wing and flew in for a layup and foul at 3:16. She missed her freebie at the line, but the Grain Valley lead was back to 38-29.

“We were making (Dunn) go left, and I just read her eyes,” Turner said of the first steal.
The second steal was another case of anticipation.

“You can always read their eyes and see which way it’s gonna go,” Turner said. “They were catching up to us and we needed to turn it around, get a bigger lead.”

Turner didn’t score outside of that stretch, but grabbed a team-high six rebounds to go with a handful of steals.

“That’s a sophomore who was playing JV earlier in the year,” Draper said of Turner. “She’s a good athlete, and she’s aggressive. When everybody’s holding their breath, sometimes that can be the difference.”

Liberty North didn’t fold, as Audrey Wood and Dunn hit pairs of free throws sandwiched around Shelby Bachman’s steal and layup to make it a three-point game with 54 seconds left.

North had a chance to tie after Grain Valley’s Lanae Wilke missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Dunn was whistled for traveling with 24 seconds left. Kelsi Hill split a pair of foul shots seven seconds later to make it 39-35, which gave Grain Valley enough cushion to hold on.

Dunn’s 12 points led all scorers, and Kroge added eight points and 12 rebounds for Liberty North. Hill, Wilke and Mariah Hernandez (three steals) had eight points apiece to pace Grain Valley.

In a game where both teams had trouble shooting (North shot 14 of 42, Grain Valley 14 of 39) and valuing (North committed 25 turnovers, Grain Valley 18) the basketball, maintaining effort on defense and on the boards was all the more crucial.

“I have a trust in them,” Draper said. “I thought they’d be tough enough to bring it home, and they were. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting at the end.

“I asked them if they were tired and needed a sub. Even if I knew they were lying, I left them in.”

After an 8-8 first quarter, North went scoreless the first 5:36 of the second, missing seven shots and committing seven turnovers along the way. Grain Valley scored nine unanswered points, then made it 22-12 after Hill swished a 30-footer at the buzzer.

“It gave us some breathing room,” Draper said, “and in a game like this, three points is a big deal.”