Lee’s Summit North’s girls basketball team had been able to get a defensive grasp on Blue Springs both times they played in the regular season.
Friday’s Class 5 District 13 championship game at Raytown High School was no different, and the Broncos’ offense hummed well enough to provide a comfortable margin from the get-go.
North raced out to a 15-4 lead and never led Blue Springs get within shouting distance in a 44-30 victory, advancing to Wednesday’s sectional round against second-ranked Truman, which is responsible for two of the Broncos’ five losses this season.
In their two Suburban Big Six meetings, North (21-5) won by 37 and 2 against Blue Springs. While Friday’s final wasn’t a complete wipeout, the Wildcats (13-15) weren’t near the threat this time.
“We preach defense, we preach rebounding and playing with heart,” North coach Tricia Lillygren said. “We’ve played them good defensively. The second time we played we struggled on offense. I’m just pleased we were able to pull it off.”
All-state forward Imani Johnson scored North’s first five points, and Erica Nelson added a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. The Broncos led 15-7 after the first quarter and 23-16 at halftime.
Blue Springs committed just one turnover in the first half, but it found nothing but tough sledding against the North defense, as evidenced by 7-of-22 shooting. Aliyah Lee scored the Cats’ first 10 points and finished with a game-high 16, but her teammates added just two more baskets in the first half.
“I want to give them credit,” Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli said of the Broncos. “They played smart. They played one of the better games I’ve seen them play.
“The biggest problem was we struggled to get baskets all game. I was even comfortable with where we were at halftime, but we couldn’t cut into it.”
Instead, his team shot 1 of 9 and found itself in a 36-19 hole entering the fourth.
“Defense was the key for sure,” said Johnson, who had 14 points and five rebounds. “When we play our game, we’re great.
“Attack the paint,” she said of the team’s key on offense, “and if there was a mismatch we took advantage of it.”
When Johnson sat stretches of the second and third quarters due to foul trouble, her freshman sister Aaliyah stepped in. The younger Johnson contributed six points off the bench, while Nelson recorded 10 points, five rebounds and five assists and Jaden Powell pitched in with nine points and six rebounds.
“Aaliyah gave us some great minutes,” Lillygren said. “It’s going to be fun to watch her the next three years.
“We talked about shooting off the pass. That’s the way we need to score. Sometimes we settle, but tonight we were able to get good shots.”
Morgan McMahan backed Lee with five points and four rebounds. Despite the ending, Spigarelli lauded the improvement his senior-less team showed this season.
“I’m proud of the kids in how they made giant strides the last month,” said the veteran coach, whose last five teams had advanced to the Class 5 final four. “I’m maybe more proud of them than the final four teams.
“They came farther from start to finish than any of the final four teams. Those teams were good to start. This year we ended up competing with some of the best teams in the state.”