As Raymore-Peculiar fell further and further behind early against Lee’s Summit, senior Cassie Kruse knew her team needed someone to lead them back into the game.
She decided that someone would be her.
“I was looking at the scoreboard and we were down 10 in the first four minutes,” Kruse said. “I was like somebody’s got to do something.”
This is what makes Kruse, a 5-foot-4 guard on the Panthers’ veteran-laden roster, the undisputed team leader.
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Kruse started popping three-pointers and made school-record seven of them on her way to 26 points as Ray-Pec rallied for a 54-49 overtime victory Dec. 11 at home.
One of three starters and three seniors back from a Panthers team that went 8-18 last season, Kruse headlines a squad that is benefiting from the experience gained last season.
But even with all those veterans, there’s no doubt about who’s the leader on the floor. It’s a role Kruse relishes and her coach is happy to have her assume.
“She’s definitely our vocal leader,” Ray-Pec coach Jonathan Benson said. “Whenever something needs to be said, she’s the one who says it. When our team needed picked up, she really rose to the occasion tonight.”
Ray-Pec (4-2, 2-0 Suburban Gold) needed a boost after falling behind 16-6 in the first quarter.
Lee’s Summit, which was missing senior guard and UMKC signee Claire Lock due to injury and several others due to sickness, flustered the Panthers with a 2-3 zone defense and the physical inside play of 6-2 senior center Brooke Benton, who led the Tigers with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
What the Panthers needed was some outside shots, and Kruse was happy to oblige.
“I hit my first one and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go,’” Kruse said. “Hit my second and I was like, ‘Feed me. Let’s get it.’”
Kruse finished 7 of 10 from behind the arc, and most of her three-pointers came at critical moments. One from the top of the key capped a 10-0 run during the second quarter that gave the Panthers their first lead. She and Isabela Gardner later hit back-to-back threes to break a 33-33 tie at the end of the third quarter.
After making a free throw with 4.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, Kruse hit two more threes in the extra period, helping seal the win.
“A shooter who does what Cassie did tonight just makes it easier on all of us,” Benson said. “We were down early and we needed some big shots and she hit them.”
Having Kruse and fellow returning starters, including 5-10 senior center Shelby Martinez and 5-10 junior Janae Thurston, back has made things easier for Benson, who is in his first season coaching the Panthers after the retirement of longtime coach Brad Gaines.
“I love carrying my team, I love my girls,” Kruse said. “I count on them; they count on me. We all count on each other.”