Weems' late free throw rescues Eagles in district win over Broncos

By Bill Althaus

Grain Valley’s Jordyn Weems scored just one point against Lee’s Summit North Saturday night.

But it was a big one, leading to the Eagles’ heart-stopping 48-47 victory in the opening round of Class 6 District 14 tournament.

With her fourth-seeded Eagles clinging to a 47-45 lead over the No. 5 Broncos, she was fouled with 16.7 seconds left.

There was a reason the Broncos fouled the senior guard, as she had just missed a one-and-one opportunity that would have given her team a little breathing room.

She missed the first of her two free throws, but hit nothing but net on the second to give Grain Valley a 48-45 lead.

North’s Elauni Bennett then drove the court and hit a basket to make it a one-point game.

The Broncos quickly fouled Grace Slaughter, who had scored 29 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. She had connected on six consecutive free throws, but missed both attempts with just 6 seconds left.

The Broncos got the ball into Bennett, who glided down the court and had a clean look at a short jump shot, but it slid around the rim and fell harmlessly to the floor, setting off a celebration on the Eagles bench.

“That was the biggest free throw of my life,” said Weems, who was mobbed by her teammates after the final buzzer sounded. “I’ve never hit a game-winning basket in my life.

“I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders when I went to the line because I had missed one earlier and missed my first one in the final seconds. I just told myself I was going to make the second one, and I did.”

The Eagles take on No. 1 seed Blue Springs at 7 p.m. Monday in a semifinal on the Wildcats’ home court.

It’s a much anticipated game as The Examiner’s Co-Players of the Year from 2020, sophomores Jada Williams from Blue Springs and the Eagles’ Slaughter will match up for the first time in their prep careers.

“There are so many great storylines from this game,” Eagles coach Randy Draper said, “where do you start?”

The Eagles trailed by 12 points early in the fourth quarter Saturday, but slowly climbed back into the game on Slaughter’s brilliant play.

“Grace was great but she got some help tonight,” Draper pointed out. “Gabbi (Keim) and Ella (Clyman) got some big boards and Fin (Finley LaForge) hit a big basket. We needed Grace, but this was a team win, a huge team win.”

Draper said he was disappointed when his team scored just six points in the second quarter and trailed 21-19 at halftime. The Broncos then took a 38-28 lead into the fourth quarter, and scored the first basket of that frame.

“Coach let us know he was disappointed in the way we played the second quarter,” said Slaughter, who has already made a verbal commitment to the University of Missouri. “We didn’t play that well in the third quarter, but the fourth quarter might have been one of our best all season.”

A Slaughter layup at 1:08 gave the 14-6 Eagles their first lead of the second half (47-45), and set the stage for Weems’ game-winning free throw.

“That was so cool when Jordyn hit that free throw,” Slaughter said. “We were all cheering for her. We knew she would come through.”

Broncos coach Tricia Lillygren was proud of her team’s effort, and let them know in a touching postgame visit.

“I’ve been doing this 30 years and I’m as proud of this team as any I have coached,” she said after the Broncos wrapped up a 5-12 season. “Both teams played a great game, and left it all out on the court. Great players and great kids on both teams.”

Elauni Bennet, a close friend of Slaughter’s from AAU ball, scored a team-high 20 points, and immediately crossed the court to give her friendly rival a hug.

“That’s what I love about this game,” Slaughter said, “the friendships you make. Elauni and her sister Emani are the best.”

Lauren Draney added 10 points for the Broncos.