Pulling together: Eagles stave off Patriots with team effort
Before the start of their highly anticipated Suburban Middle Six Conference girls basketball game against visiting Truman, Grain Valley coach Randy Draper painted a vivid picture for his team.
“I got the girls together,” Draper said, “and told them that there is going to be a big panic button on the court, and it’s going to be flashing. And whatever you do, DON’T PUSH IT!”
He chuckled after making the comment because it proved to be prophetic.
After cruising to a 30-20 halftime lead, the Eagles had to hold on to claim a tight 48-45 victory that was a complete team win – which is something Draper has been dreaming about.
“It’s one game, but this is the game I’ve been waiting for,” Draper said after the Eagles improved to 2-2 and 1-1 in the conference. “We had Grace (Slaughter) with 16 points at the half and she scores one point in the second half. Do you know how big that is for this team – what a huge step it is?”
Slaughter, who finished with 17 points, might have been more excited about her teammates than her coach.
“This was a team win where everyone contributed,” the sophomore all-state guard said. “I don’t ever want to score just one point in a half, but did you see what Ella (Clyman) and Gabbi (Keim) and Finley (Laforge) and all the girls did tonight?
“They hit so many big shots and free throws and we all worked together and held off that great team. They’re good, and they’re young, like we are.”
While the Eagles are young, the Patriots are really young.
“Most of the second half we had four sophomores and a freshman out there,” said Truman coach Jimmy Page, who praised his team’s performance. “This is one of those games where I am happy after a loss – because of the way we played, as a team and with so much intensity – than I have been after some of our wins.
“This is the game we’ve been waiting for. I couldn’t be any prouder of our team. We got down, and we worked so hard to get back. But we were going against a great coach and a great team and we didn’t quite get to where we wanted to be.
“Man, after this game, I can’t wait to play Coach Draper’s girls again.”
The Eagles took a 41-37 lead into the fourth quarter after Truman used a 12-2 third quarter run to set the tone for the exciting finish.
Layla Scott hit a long 3-pointer to tie it at 42 with 4:33 remaining. Urya’ Williams then hit two free throws to give the Patriots their first lead, 44-42 at 3:36.
“That panic button was right there,” Draper said, “but no one pushed it. If they had, we don’t win that game.”
Cece Mora then hit one of two free throws to pad the Truman lead to 45-42, before Clyman, a sophomore post player, hit back to back jump shots to give the Eagles a 46-45 lead.
“I’m so proud of Ella, because no one works harder, and she really worked hard on her offense leading into this season,” Draper said, “and we needed every one of her 15 points tonight.”
Keim, senior newcomer whose family moved to Grain Valley from central Wisconsin, then hit the two biggest free throws of her young Eagle career to account for the three-point margin of victory.
And with no time left on the clock, Truman sophomore guard Taliyah Scott, who finished with a game-high 21 points, let go with a 3-point attempt that lipped the rim and fell to the floor.
“This was such a great game,” said Keim, who finished with eight points. “When I went to the line I was confident I was going to make those free throws. I always bounce the ball one time – to make sure I’m concentrating and confident – and then I shoot the ball.”
Each attempt hit nothing but net.
“‘We were all confident in Gabbi,” Clyman said. “Tonight we found a way to win a tough game as a team, and that’s so exciting. Everyone who played contributed and I was so happy to score some big baskets.
“Coach told me he was proud of how hard I’ve been working offensively, and I was able to get some big baskets tonight.”
Laforge, a freshman who hit two key 3-point baskets in the game, finished with six points.
Layla Scott and Mora finished with 10 points each for the 2-4 Patriots (2-4, 0-1).
“I know our girls are disappointed we lost, but I am so excited to get back in the gym tomorrow and let them know how proud I am of them,” said Page, who made a point of congratulating many of the Eagles players who were still in the gym. “This could become a great rivalry.”