When Grain Valley girls basketball coach Randy Draper saw Nevada come out in a 2-3 zone Tuesday, he was thankful his well-rounded team included freshman sensation Grace Slaughter and a host of role players who usually do all the little things right.
With Slaughter scoring a game-high 18 points and the Eagles’ role players doing what they do best, Grain Valley topped Nevada 36-27 in the Class 4 sectional playoff at Lee’s Summit High School.
The Eagles held the Tigers 31 points below their season scoring average while advancing to Saturday’s state quarterfinals.
“It’s something we have seen all year,” Draper said of Slaughter, a 6-foot-1 guard who had three players draped over her back most of the night. “We knew we needed some outside help to open up things inside for Grace.
“And we got it at the start of the third period.”
That help came minutes into the third quarter when Jordyn Weems and Malia Gutierrez sank back-to-back 3-pointers to expand the Eagles’ lead to 22-10.
As Draper had hoped, getting some outside help allowed Slaughter to go to the basket with ease in the third period as she scored six of her game-high total to send the Eagles to a 6 p.m. Saturday quarterfinal game against Lincoln Prep at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“We knew we had to open things up for Grace and we were able to hit those 3-pointers,” said Weems, who finished with six points. “Grace works so hard for our team, and we want to do all we can to help her.”
Added Gutierrez: “You just see our confidence grow as a team when we took that (12-point) lead. We knew there was a lot of the game left, but we felt so good about finally hitting a 3-point basket. And our defense was really good too.”
That was an understatement.
“You have to play great defense to get to this point of the season, and we’ve been playing some great defense,” Draper said after his team improved to 20-7. “All the girls did exactly what we hoped they would do, and Grace? Wow, is she a player.”
Slaughter said she has never worked quite as hard as she did against the Tigers’ 2-3 zone, which posted at least two players in her face the entire night.
“Oh my gosh, I am so proud of our girls, they were amazing tonight,” Slaughter said. “We worked hard to score those 14 points in the first half (leading 14-10 at halftime), and when Jordyn and Malia came out and hit those threes it just changed the complexion of the whole game.
“And our defense was great. I think it might be the best defense we have played this season. Since I’m a freshman, this is my first time to experience this and I’m having the time of my life!”
Nevada senior Calli Beshore, who brought a 15.8-point scoring average into the game, was held to 10 points. No other Tigers player scored more than four points.