Reggie Kanagawa didn't want to play her last game for the Blue Springs High School girls basketball team, so she went out and turned in her best performance of the season.
The 6-foot-2 senior center dominated on both ends of the court, scoring the first six points of the game en route to a 49-28 Class 5 District 9 semifinal victory over crosstown rival Blue Springs South Tuesday night at Blue Springs High School.
Kanagawa, who has signed to play softball at Brigham Young University, scored a season-high 19 points and added eight rebounds to make sure her Wildcats advanced to Thursday’s championship.
"Our coach (Mark Spigarelli) talked early about using my height advantage, and it worked for us," Kanagawa said. "My teammates got me the ball and most of the time, I was able to score."
The ease of her scoring inside the paint frustrated South coach Kory Lower, whose team finished 10-14, including three losses to the Wildcats.
"The last time we played them, we did a lot better job of defending Reggie," the first-year coach said. "Tonight, she was able to get behind our defense and get those easy layups. What'd she have – 12 of her 19 points in the first half? She just dominated early. We dug ourselves that early hole and couldn't climb out."
While Lower thought about what might have been, Spigarelli was thrilled his pregame doubts were unfounded.
"Shows what I know," chuckled Spigarelli, whose 11-13 team has rebounded from an 0-6 start to the season. "I was watching our warmups (in the small gym) and I thought we were unorganized and not really into it. Then, we got out and just dominated that first quarter.
"We grab an 11-2 lead and Reggie has six points and is pretty much unstoppable in the paint. I'm still not pleased with our overall defense at the end of the season, but I am happy with the way the girls kept working hard after that slow start to get to the championship game of the district tournament."
While Kanagawa dominated the paint in the first quarter, guards Jayla Sample and Sy'Maih Smith unloaded two long-range 3-pointers to bring the Jaguar defense out to the perimeter.
"We knew if we could score some 3-pointers," said Sample, who finished with eight points, "that would open things up inside for Reggie and make it easier for her to hit some layups. She's the leader on our team and we're all happy for her. When she hit her first three layups, we're saying, 'Get that girl the ball.' And we did."
With Kanagawa leading the offensive charge, Blue Springs led 16-4 after one period and 27-10 at halftime.
"You're not going to win many games when you score 10 at halftime," Lower said. "We played a little better the second half, but not well enough to win."
The late success of the Wildcats is special to Kanagawa, who missed much of her junior track and field season (she is ranked No. 1 in the state in the javelin) and senior softball season because of surgery.
"It's important to me and all the girls that we finish strong this season," Kanagawa said. "We have some strong leaders on this team and we weren't going to let anyone give up after that 0-6 start. You don't want to play your best basketball at the start of the season, you want to play it now when the games mean more."
Smith finished with nine points for the Wildcats while senior Kaylee Connors led the Jaguars with eight points.