It would be hard to ignore Grace Slaughter’s 35-point performance.
Her dominance on both ends of the court was a key factor in the Grain Valley girls basketball team’s 58-37 rout of the Center Yellowjackets in Friday night’s Class 4 District 14 championship game.
But this Eagles’ victory goes far beyond the brilliance of the freshman sensation.
"Grace was Grace, and oh my goodness, we have her three more years, but tonight was a team win," Eagles coach Randy Draper said after his 19-7 team advanced to next Tuesday’s sectional contest at 6 p.m. at Lee’s Summit High School against Nevada. "Our second half might have been the best second half we played all year and everyone contributed."
Center made a furious second-quarter comeback. The Yellowjackets trailed 8-0 and 11-1 in the first quarter but used a Zariah Brown layup at the buzzer to take a 23-22 lead at halftime.
"At the half, Coach Draper just told us we needed to go out and play the type of basketball that got us to the championship game, and we did," said Slaughter, who scored 12 of game-high total in the third quarter. "What was so much fun about the third quarter was that everyone did what they’re best at, and that makes our team so much fun and this win so special."
Grain Valley used a 17-11 advantage to take a 38-33 lead into the fourth quarter and blew the game open by scoring 20 points over the last eight minutes.
While everyone celebrated, no Eagle was more emotional than senior Keely Hill, a defensive and rebounding specialist who does all the little things that only coaches and their teammates notice.
"Before the game today, I talked with my dad Kevin in our driveway and he talked about how special it would be to win another district championship as a senior after winning one as a freshman," said Hill, who was part of the Claire Rose-Kendyll Bailey led squad that won a district crown.
"Right now, sharing this with my girls, seeing my mom and dad in the stands, I’m just so emotional," Hill added. "I feel so great. None of us want this season to end, but I really don’t want it to end because it will be the last time I will ever play basketball."
Hill has signed to play softball for Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods.
The only other senior on the team is Savannah Scott, who was not part of that district championship team three years ago.
"This is my first one and it feels so good. I am so emotional," Scott said. "We played as a team, especially in the second half. Coach Draper told us we were better than the way we played in the first half and he was right."
While all Slaughter wanted to talk about were her teammates, coaches and the big win, she set another Grain Valley milestone, becoming the first girls player in Eagles history to surpass 600 points in a single season.
She had 579 points going into the game, and scored No. 601 on a layup at the 2:53 mark in the third period. She has 614 points this season.
"All those points are because of my teammates and my coaches," Slaughter said. "We’re a team, first and foremost."
Following the win at Oak Grove, the Eagles returned to Grain Valley for a ceremony that started many years ago when the Eagles won their first district title – they cut down the nets on their home court.
"It’s so cool to see our family members here to celebrate with us," Slaughter said. "I think everyone who lives in Grain Valley and goes to school here was at the game, and that meant so much to us.
"But this is so special, to be able to cut down the nets from our gyms. Gosh, I wonder how many shots we made and missed with these nets. I hope this is the start of a lot of celebrations like this."