With seconds left in the Class 5 District 9 championship district game at Blue Springs High School Thursday night, Wildcats coach Mark Spigarelli had two freshmen, two sophomores and senior Reggie Kanagawa on the court.

That’s not exactly dog bites man news, as many times coaches will reward underclassmen with a few moments on the court in the biggest game of the season.

What made that group of players special is the simple fact that they played much of the game and led the underdog 12-12 Wildcats to a stunning 52-34 victory over the top-seeded Columbia Rock Bridge Bruins in a game the Blue Springs’ kiddie corps dominated from the opening tip off.

The Wildcats now move on to Class 5 sectional play next Wednesday in Sedalia, where they will play the winner of tonight’s Camdenton-Willard championship game.

Spigarelli – who owns four state championships from his coaching days at Pembroke Hill and five consecutive Final Four appearances with past Wildcat teams – might have turned in the greatest coaching performance of his career this season as his youthful team started 0-6.

“When we were 0-6, we were a different team,” said Kanagawa, the team’s leader who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. “We were young, but we were still trying to become a team.

“Now the girls are battled tested. You couldn’t tell by watching us play tonight if a player was a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. I’ve had so much fun watching the girls grow up right before my eyes, and their experience has led to a lot of success.”

Few people thought the Wildcats could get past a Rock Bridge team that finished third at the state final four last year. Even some of the Wildcats themselves were skeptical.

“Did I think we could win tonight?” asked sophomore Aliyah Bello, who scored 14 points and turned in a masterful defensive performance. “Uh, well, I thought we would come out and compete hard. I didn’t know if we could win, but I knew we’d try hard and give it everything we had.

“It was so much fun with all the underclassmen out there with Reggie and Sy’Maih (Smith, a senior guard). We were never intimidated. We got off to the good start and kept playing hard.”

The Wildcats led 9-3 early in the game and padded that lead to 31-13 at the half on the strength of a 15-4 second quarter that saw Bello score seven points and sophomore guard Jayla Sample tally eight.

“We had a big second quarter,” said Sample, who received a big hug from Spigarelli after the game. “Coach is very special to me. He got after me all season, made me work hard, pushed me harder than any coach I have ever played for and I hope he got the results he wanted.”

When that comment was relayed to the veteran coach, he nodded in agreement.

“I was hard on Jayla, but I was hard on her because I knew she could be a very good player,” Spigarelli said. “When she came out of the game at the end there, I just wanted her to know how proud I was of her – how proud I am of all the girls.”

So coach, did you expect a win?

“About a month ago, when we were getting close to being a .500 team after that 0-6 start, I told the girls our goal was to make it to the district championship game,” he said. “But tonight, I told them our goal was to win it – and we did.”

Freshman forward Taitlynn Afualo had some eye-popping passes to Kanagawa in the paint, grabbed a handful of rebounds and never looked like a ninth grader playing with the upperclassmen.

“I’ve played basketball all my life,” said Afualo, who finished with five points. “I think I’m going to get better as I get older and stronger, but I’m not going to be intimidated by older girls or girls on teams with a better record than we have.

“I thought we could win tonight. Some of the girls might have had doubts, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to play hard and do everything they could to win. When we got off to the good start, we all knew we could win if we just kept playing hard.”

The Bruins scored just 19 points going into the fourth quarter as the Wildcats took a stunning 44-19 lead into the final period.

Freshman Lilly Queen and senior Angelica Andrews each played strong minutes for the Wildcats, who can’t wait to get to practice this afternoon.

“Let’s go practice now – let’s go play now,” said Sample, who finished with a game-high 17 points. “We’re a team, the best team we have been all season. It seems like our 0-6 start was years ago. No one is thinking about that, we’re just thinking of what we have to do to win our next game.”

Payton McAllister led the Bruins with 13 points.

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
With seconds left in the Class 5 District 9 championship district game at Blue Springs High School Thursday night, Wildcats coach Mark Spigarelli had two freshmen, two sophomores and senior Reggie Kanagawa on the court.
That’s not exactly dog bites man news, as many times coaches will reward underclassmen with a few moments on the court in the biggest game of the season.
What made that group of players special is the simple fact that they played much of the game and led the underdog 12-12 Wildcats to a stunning 52-34 victory over top-seeded Columbia Rock Bridge in a game the Blue Springs’ kiddie corps dominated from the opening tip off.
The Wildcats now move on to Class 5 sectional play next Wednesday in Sedalia, where they will play the winner of tonight’s Camdenton-Willard championship game.
Spigarelli – who owns four state championships from his coaching days at Pembroke Hill and five consecutive Final Four appearances with past Wildcat teams – might have turned in the greatest coaching performance of his career this season as his youthful team started 0-6.
“When we were 0-6, we were a different team,” said Kanagawa, the team’s leader who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. “We were young, but we were still trying to become a team.
“Now the girls are battled tested. You couldn’t tell by watching us play tonight if a player was a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. I’ve had so much fun watching the girls grow up right before my eyes, and their experience has led to a lot of success.”
Few people thought the Wildcats could get past a Rock Bridge team that finished third at the state final four last year. Even some of the Wildcats themselves were skeptical.
“Did I think we could win tonight?” asked sophomore Aliyah Bello, who scored 14 points and turned in a masterful defensive performance. “Uh, well, I thought we would come out and compete hard. I didn’t know if we could win, but I knew we’d try hard and give it everything we had.
“It was so much fun with all the underclassmen out there with Reggie and Sy’Maih (Smith, a senior guard). We were never intimidated. We got off to the good start and kept playing hard.”
The Wildcats led 9-3 early in the game and padded that lead to 31-13 at the half on the strength of a 15-4 second quarter that saw Bello score seven points and sophomore guard Jayla Sample tally eight.
“We had a big second quarter,” said Sample, who received a big hug from Spigarelli after the game. “Coach is very special to me. He got after me all season, made me work hard, pushed me harder than any coach I have ever played for and I hope he got the results he wanted.”
When that comment was relayed to the veteran coach, he nodded in agreement.
“I was hard on Jayla, but I was hard on her because I knew she could be a very good player,” Spigarelli said. “When she came out of the game at the end there, I just wanted her to know how proud I was of her – how proud I am of all the girls.”
So coach, did you expect a win?
“About a month ago, when we were getting close to being a .500 team after that 0-6 start, I told the girls our goal was to make it to the district championship game,” he said. “But tonight, I told them our goal was to win it – and we did.”
Freshman forward Taitlynn Afualo had some eye-popping passes to Kanagawa in the paint, grabbed a handful of rebounds and never looked like a ninth grader playing with the upperclassmen.
“I’ve played basketball all my life,” said Afualo, who finished with five points. “I think I’m going to get better as I get older and stronger, but I’m not going to be intimidated by older girls or girls on teams with a better record than we have.
“I thought we could win tonight. Some of the girls might have had doubts, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to play hard and do everything they could to win. When we got off to the good start, we all knew we could win if we just kept playing hard.”
The Bruins scored just 19 points going into the fourth quarter as the Wildcats took a stunning 44-19 lead into the final period.
Freshman Lilly Queen and senior Angelica Andrews each played strong minutes for the Wildcats, who can’t wait to get to practice this afternoon.
“Let’s go practice now – let’s go play now,” said Sample, who finished with a game-high 17 points. “We’re a team, the best team we have been all season. It seems like our 0-6 start was years ago. No one is thinking about that, we’re just thinking of what we have to do to win our next game.”
Payton McAllister led the Bruins with 13 points.