SEDALIA, Mo. – Things for the Blue Springs girls basketball team looked grim early on in the season as it started out 0-6 and was outscored by 13.5 points per game.
Blue Springs needed to do something.
Team building exercises, including sleepovers and going out to eat together more often led to more chemistry. Head coach Mark Spigarelli made a tactical move in having his team switch to a 2-3 zone defense.
Those things led to the Wildcats going 12-6 the rest of the way and a upset victory of No. 1 seed Columbia Rock Bridge in the championship of the Class 5 District 9 tournament. It was clear that Blue Springs already had a great season leading up to Wednesday’s Class 5 sectional game against Camdenton.
The Wildcats were competitive throughout most of the game and handled the Lakers’ full-court, man-to-man press well from start to finish. However, a hot-shooting night from Camdenton, surrendering offensive rebounds and late turnovers led to the Wildcats’ magical ride coming to an end in a 56-49 loss at State Fair Community College.
Spigarelli said he couldn’t have been more proud of his team even in a losing effort. He recalls when things seemed to bottom out at the beginning of the season and looks at how his team played at the end of the season. It was a huge turnaround.
“I’ve never been more proud of … a 12-14 team,” Spigarelli said. “In all of the years that I have coached, it’s the furthest I’ve seen a team progress. I am proud of our seniors for not letting anyone give up. And I am proud of our younger players for following our seniors’ lead.”
Blue Springs guard Jayla Sample, who along with Aliyah Bello scored 12 points, had some similar thoughts.
“We spent the night at Lilly’s (Queen) house every year for our South games,” Sample said. “We also go to Chick-fil-A and then some of us go to Fazoli’s.
“When we started 0-6, I was like, ‘Ugh, it’s going to be rough.’ But after our first couple of wins and some good practices, we saw that we could do good. I just knew that we had it as a team. My goal was to be district champs and we did.”
The Wildcats stayed within striking distance of the Lakers in the first half as they trailed 8-6 in the first quarter and cut Camdenton’s lead to 22-21 at halftime. Blue Springs gave away some points off turnovers early in the first but gradually began handling the full-court pressure.
Blue Springs raced out to a 4-0 run in the third because of Reggie Kanagawa’s layup and a fast-break layup put the Wildcats ahead 25-22.
However, a costly foul led to Jessica Watson sinking three straight free throws. The Wildcats went on another 4-0 spurt capped by a Kanagawa layup to go up 29-25. But yet another foul behind the 3-point line led to a four-point play from Darby Roam to tie it.
“We let them get a couple of offensive rebounds and that got their crowd energized,” Spigarelli said. “That hurt. And the other thing that hurt is when we opened up a lead and fouled them on a three. Then we went up by four and they tie it when we foul on another three.
“Those are huge plays. When we were up four, I could see some frustration on some of their kids faces. I felt like if we got a stop and a basket, we could have got them rattled.”
Spigarelli pointed to the two fouls behind the arc as the difference.
The teams traded baskets a few times and Blue Springs took a 33-32 lead after Sy’Miah Smith’s transition bucket. Camdenton ended the third period on a 7-0 run, which was aided by a couple of traveling calls on the Wildcats.
The Lakers led 39-33 going into the fourth and began pulling away by shooting 4 of 7 from the field and 9 of 13 from the foul line in the final eight minutes. For the game, Camdenton shot 23 of 27 from the free throw line. The Lakers made 22 consecutive free throws in the first three quarters.
“That was a real killer, too,” Spigarelli said of the Lakers’ free throw shooting.
Smith paced Blue Springs with 13 points. Camdenton’s Kylie Meier led all scorers with 19 points.