Randy Draper’s timing is impeccable.
Whether he is attempting to come up with a game plan to help his Grain Valley Eagles girls basketball team overcome a 13-point first-half deficit, or is explaining his team’s thought process at the half of a memorable 39-36 come-from-behind victory Thursday night at William Chrisman High School.
“I think it’s safe to say that we were not an overconfident team as we went into the half,” quipped Draper, as his team trailed 24-18. “But I knew our girls would never give up. And the way they played the second half – oh, my goodness, was that ever fun to watch.”
The 4-0 Eagles turned up the defensive intensity, hit five game-deciding fourth-quarter free throws and turned the game over to the dynamic duo – guard Claire Coggins and her running mate, forward Kendyll Bailey, whose 3-pointer at 3:40 of the fourth quarter knotted the score at 32-all.
Bailey then gave the Eagles their first lead of the game with a driving layup that split the Bears’ rock-solid defense, making it 34-32.
Sophomore Brittney McKay then calmly stepped to the free throw line and hit nothing but net on two huge free throws at the 1:23 mark. Junior Maddie Knust then gave the Eagles a bit of breathing room with two more free throws with just 12 seconds left to account for the final score.
“We worked so hard the whole game, against a great team,” said Rose, who took off her letter jacket to show the scrapes and cuts on her forearms. “The girls who were defending me must have had really sharp fingernails because I’ve got these cuts all over my arms. I’m not complaining – they are a great, great team and they wanted to win this game as much as we did. We were going all out defensively and so were they.”
Rose had two to three defenders in her face the entire game, but she always found a way to get the ball up court.
“That’s Claire,” Draper said, “she is tough. I mean, she’s just plain tough.”
The Bears took it to the Eagles in the first half as guard Adreon Bell accounted for all nine points in a first-quarter 9-2 Bears run. She forced a turnover and assisted on a Janelle Acevedo 3-pointer, then hit her own 3-pointer and then had an old-fashioned 3-point play with a layup and free throw.
“It was fun watching her and Claire get after it,” Draper said. “I know these guys (assistant coaches Pete Carpino and Troy Spradley) didn’t believe me, but I told them at the half how much I was enjoying the game. It was a great game and it’s going to make us tougher and better because we know we can come back against a great team.”
Bailey, who had just four points going into the final quarter, made the most memorable shot of the young season when she drained a 3-pointer in front of her bench.
“It was about time,” she said, as her sidekick, Rose, nodded in agreement. “We were coming back and fighting so hard. We had so many opportunities to tie the game, and when we finally did, I knew we weren’t going to let them get another lead.
“Then, I got the ball and hit the basket to give us the lead and the way we were playing defense, I knew it would be hard for Chrisman to come back. And we made those big free throws – they were huge, especially that making them that late in the game.”
The loss was the second in a row for coach Scott Schaefer’s Bears, who fell to 3-2.
“We played very good defense the first half, and we weren’t as strong defensively the second half,” Schaefer said. “Coach Draper has a very good team, and we knew we had to play four quarters to win the game. I was disappointed our intensity level wasn’t as high in the second half as it was in the first.”
Rose led all scorers with 13 points and Bailey added 11, with seven coming in that 14-4 Grain Valley fourth quarter. McKay and Knust had six each, including the late free throws.
Bell was the lone Bear in double figures as she finished with 10 points, after scoring six in the first three minutes of the game. Acevedo finished with eight points.