One thing this largely inexperienced, senior-less Blue Springs girls basketball team doesn’t appear it must learn is how to hang in and fight back against a strong opponent.
That is what Wildcats coach Mark Spigarelli takes the most from Thursday’s 47-45 season-opening buzzer-beating loss to visiting Kearney, whom a Blue Springs team led by current Division I college players Karyla Middlebrook and Lizzy Wendell ousted in last season’s state quarterfinals.
Twice in the second half Blue Springs clawed back from a five-point deficit in the second half, and it nearly forced overtime when Madison Sykes deflected a Kearney (2-0) pass out of bounds with nine-tenths of a second left. But Kearney’s Meagan Paul got a baseline inbound pass to Allie Hess, who quickly turned and hoisted a short turnaround jumper before the buzzer, banking it in for a Bulldogs victory.
“I thought we played one of the best teams in the city, came back and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Spigarelli said. “I hate losing like crazy, and I hate for the kids to lose on a buzzer-beater like that, but the mistakes are correctable ones.”
Chief among those mistakes were multiple baskets allowed on inbound plays.
“I’m really happy with the overall big picture,” Spigarelli said. “We gave up 11 points on inbound plays ... but I feel good about the team.”
After Blue Springs’ Aliyah Lee calmly drained both ends of a one-and-one at the free throw line to tie the game with 46 seconds left, Kearney coach Troy Resler twice called timeout before Sykes’ deflection set up the final scenario. Resler said he tries to end each of his team’s practices with a specific game situation.
“Now, we’ve never done inbounding with point-nine left, and the pressure’s not there (in practice), but at least it’s not the first time we’ve faced that,” he said.
Blue Springs’ Morgan Hensley canned two 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Lee’s buzzer-beating 3 capped a 6-of-9 shooting quarter and gave the Wildcats a 15-10 lead. Morgan McMahan’s jumper and Jasmine Tauai’s layup off a turnover raised the margin to 19-10 early in the second, and the Wildcats withstood a 10-3 Kearney run to take a 24-22 halftime lead on McMahan’s last-minute putback.
Another 10-3 Kearney run made it 32-27 in the third, but Lee scored her team’s next seven points to produce a 34-all tie heading into the fourth.
Lee, who finished with a game-high 19 points and added seven rebounds and two steals, said that after being varsity role players last season, she and her teammates had to “come together and show them what we’ve got.”
“We talked about helping each other out, that we have to fight back when we face adversity,” she said, “and we showed that we can.”
Kearney held leads of 39-34 and 41-37 in the fourth, but 3-pointers from Moriah Panuco and Sykes, the latter coming with 2:03 remaining, led to a 43-43 tie. Hess got free for a layup before Lee rebounded a Panuco miss and got fouled, leading to the game’s final tie.
Blue Springs’ shooting cooled off to 17 of 36 by game’s end, and the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers to Kearney’s seven, but they outrebounded the Bulldogs 25-16, led by 11 from the 6-foot McMahan, who is the team’s lone returning starter. McMahan often was going against 6-foot-4 Taylor Doan, who had six points and two rebounds in limited minutes due to a balky knee.
“We need to be a more patient team this year,” Spigarelli said. “Our shot selection wasn’t as great tonight as I would’ve liked. McMahan was a beast on the boards against a bigger girl.”
Hess and Laura Barrow led Kearney with 10 points apiece, and Hensley contributed eight for Blue Springs.
Blue Springs’ junior varsity managed a 30-28 win thanks to 11 points from Katie Mooneyham and Camryn Swanson’s two free throws in the final minute.