The Grain Valley girls basketball program has had many great players in its existence.
Players like 2001 graduate Lauren Reeves, who played for Western Illinois in college and Claire Rose, a former Examiner Player of the Year who currently plays at Rockhurst University.
But the Eagles currently have a player who has a great chance of becoming the best player in program history – freshman Grace Slaughter.
She showed why in the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown championship against Raymore-Peculiar Friday. She scored a game-high 29 points and had three steals to lead the Eagles to a 54-46 win over the Panthers.
“Absolutely,” Draper said when asked if Slaughter could end up being the best player in the school’s history. “You have to stay healthy. I know how she works at it. That means she’s only going to get better. That’s the scary part.”
She displayed her entire arsenal, sinking threes, scoring against the double- team, frustrating Ray-Pec ball handlers with a large wingspan and precision passing. The 6-foot-1 freshman seems destined to be an NCAA Division I player in four years.
“I am glad that she’s on the team,” senior Keely Hill said. “It’s an honor to play with her. She helped her team win the Jr. NBA Championship. She’s almost famous, you know?”
In the first period, Ray-Pec was utilizing a 2-3 zone. Even when the paint was clogged and Slaughter was being double- and triple-teamed, she still found ways to score in the paint. She used her feathery touch around the basket to make floaters over Ray-Pec’s two 6-foot-2 players. She scored six points in the period to help Grain Valley take a 14-9 lead.
“I love that little floater,” Slaughter said. “I am not the tallest on the floor. Ray-Pec had two big girls. It really comes in handy because I can go over them and not through them. I write with my left hand, so sometimes that left hand feels more natural. But I shoot with my right. It’s a back-and-forth deal.
“I broke my right collarbone in sixth grade so I was using my left hand all day. But it’s more natural using my right hand dribble.”
Midway through the second period, Ray-Pec pulled within 19-18 when Lauren Jermain hit a 3-pointer. With the Panthers nipping at their heels Malia Gutierrez hit a three to extend the lead to four and Slaughter threaded the needle on a pass between two defenders and got it to Ella Clyman for an open layup to make it 26-20. However, Ray-Pec ended the period on a 4-0 spurt to make it 26-24 going into halftime.
The Panthers gave Grain Valley fits on the offensive glass for most of the game. They also frequently scored in the paint. A basket inside from Aspen Green tied it at 26-all before a putback layup from Samantha Hellums gave Ray-Pec its first lead.
That’s when Slaughter started to take over. After missing her first three attempts from behind the arc. She hit three treys in the third period, with her last one coming at the 2:58 mark to make it 39-32. But the Panthers cut the lead to 42-38 going into the fourth thanks to driving layups from Jermain and a bucket inside from Hellums.
“In the first half, I was a little cold (from 3-point range),” Slaughter said. “But I think we got going in the second half. We got some steals and got some layups. That picked us up. We all pulled together.”
It was still close throughout the final period, but junior Jordyn Weems delivered the backbreaker. She received a pass at the top of the key, then she blew by the defense for a driving layup to put the Eagles up 47-40 late in the period. Ray-Pec got as close as five, but Grain Valley got timely baskets and free throws from Slaughter to seal the win and the tournament title.
While Slaughter put on a show, she got plenty of help from her teammates. Gutierrez, Clyman and Hill each had seven points.