Grain Valley adds name to list of Pleasant Hill champions

By Bill Althaus
The Grain Valley girls basketball team poses with the championship plaque after defeating Grandview 63-43 to claim the Pleasant Hill Invitational title Friday.

PLEASANT HILL, Mo. – Before the start of Friday night’s championship game in the 34th annual Pleasant Hill Girls Invitational, coach Randy Draper told his Eagles that if they can find a way to topple a talented Grandview team, they will forever be remembered in the tourney program.

And that’s exactly what they did, as Grace Slaughter, the lone Eagles player on the all-tourney team, scored a game-high 38 points and Gabbi Keim scored nine points and grabbed 12 key rebounds to lead Grain Valley to a 63-43 victory.

“You know, I was talking to the girls and told them if you win tonight, you’re going to be a part of that tournament program for the rest of your lives – and that’s a cool thing,” said Draper, whose Claire Rose-Kendyll Bailey-led teams won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016.

“I always pick up the program, look at it to see who some of the recent champion teams are, and I wanted to see our names in there again – and we went out and played a complete game and got the job done tonight.”

While Slaughter and Keim grabbed most of the post-game attention, freshman Emma Jane Ogle joined fellow freshmen McKenah Sears and Finley LaForge as up-and-coming young stars who had their breakout games in the tournament.

“Emma Jane is so athletic,” Draper said. “Tonight, she had a great game. I think she played with more confidence tonight than I have seen in the past, and that’s great. All our freshmen are playing so well. None of them are playing like freshmen, and for a coach, that’s a good thing – a very good thing.”

With Slaughter scoring eight points in the first quarter, the Eagles got off to a 14-7 lead. The sophomore guard, who has verbally committed to the University of Missouri, had a monster second quarter, scoring 14 points, to help Grain Valley (7-3) take a 33-19 lead into halftime.

“Before the game, Coach Draper talked about how great it would be if we could win this tournament and come back next year and see our name in the program,” Slaughter said, “and it’s cool to think about something like that.

“But what’s even cooler is the way Gabbi got all those big rebounds tonight for us and how well Emma Jane played. We didn’t have time to work in the summer, and our freshmen are now playing like veteran players and that is going to be so big down the stretch.”

Keim is a senior, but her family just moved to Grain Valley, so she is another newcomer who is making an impact.

“I looked at Grandview and saw their size and athleticism and thought, ‘Rebounding could be a problem tonight,’ and Gabbi took care of that,” Draper said. “She was great, just great. What’s so wonderful about this team is that our freshmen are coming on strong and everyone knows their role.

“And Grace, well, you know what we all think of Grace. She is an amazing player and an amazing young lady. I’m so glad she’s on our side.”

Grain Valley boys fall

Facing double- and triple-teaming most of the night, Grain Valley senior forward Cole Keller managed to score a team-high 17 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Eagles fell to Odessa, 33-31.

“We just couldn’t score tonight,” Eagles coach Andy Herbert said after the fifth-place game at the Pleasant Hill Invitational. “They did a good job locking down Cole, and he did a great job scoring 17 points because someone was in his face all night.

“What really killed us was the second quarter. We couldn’t overcome that.”

Grain Valley (2-9) led 12-6 after one quarter, but managed just two Keller free throws in the second quarter to trail 16-14 at halftime.

The Eagles took a 23-21 lead into the fourth quarter, but Odessa outscored Herbert’s squad 12-8 to earn the defensive-minded victory.

“I have no problems with our defense – the guys did a great job tonight – but we have to find a way to score more points and get Cole some help,” Herbert said.