Grain Valley girls basketball coach Randy Draper believes his team has made great strides since opening conference play with a 20-point loss to Kearney a month ago.

Another lopsided loss in Thursday night’s rematch didn’t change his opinion.

“They’re the fifth-ranked team in the state for a reason,” Draper said after Kearney beat the Eagles 50-27 in a Suburban Small Seven matchup at Grain Valley. “But we want to get there.”

Grain Valley (10-5, 4-2 Suburban Small Seven) may be a better team than it was in that 53-23 loss at Kearney in December, but Kearney is still a very good team with more size, depth and balance than the Eagles. That, and the Bulldogs’ blistering (10-for-24) 3-point shooting, proved too much for Grain Valley.

“They shot the ball really well, and I wasn’t disappointed in our defense,” Draper said. “They have people who shoot the ball really well.”

Still, Grain Valley could find some tangible improvements over the last meeting. Caroline Kelly, who averages 19 points a game for Kearney, had only 11 against the Eagles. Abby Couch, who had 17 points in that first meeting, managed only 12 this time.

And Grain Valley freshman Grace Slaughter, who was guarded by the 5-9 senior Couch, tallied 14 points after getting only nine the first time.

“We’d already played them, so we definitely expected their athleticism and quickness,” said Slaughter, who was held well under her 24 points-per-game average. “Offensively we definitely had to come out strong, but defensively we gave up all those threes.”

Up 12-5 after the first quarter, Kearney (13-1, 6-0) built a 29-15 lead by halftime behind the hot shooting of guard Maddie Taylor, who sank four threes for all 12 of her points. Grain Valley, 2 of 11 from behind the arc for the game, made only three in the first half, struggled to find shots against Kearney’s big front court and missed 6 of 10 free throws before halftime.

“We left a lot of points in the first half,” Draper said.

Grain Valley made only one basket – a three from Keely Hill – in the third quarter and trailed 39-20 going into the final period. The final margin was the Bulldogs’ biggest lead of the game.

Grain Valley will host the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown next week.