• Blue Springs revamps focus entering quarterfinal meeting with Bulldogs

  • Mark Spigarelli saw the 16 wide eyes staring back at him as a positive sign.

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  • Mark Spigarelli saw the 16 wide eyes staring back at him as a positive sign.
    The Blue Springs girls basketball coach was exasperated with his team after Wednesday’s 56-42 Class 5 sectional win over St. Teresa’s Academy. In the practices leading up to that game, Spigarelli said his team’s focus wandered, which led to an uninspiring effort against the Stars.
    On Thursday, however, as the Class 5 No. 4-ranked Wildcats prepared for their state quarterfinal meeting with Kearney, Spigarelli said the team’s mentality did a 180.
    “In practice you see 16 eyes looking not at their surroundings but wanting to know and asking questions about what’s being said,” said Spigarelli, whose team will play at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at the Independence Events Center. “When we’re in the film room, the questions and the attentiveness was just a huge night-and-day difference.”
    That’s good news, because while the Wildcats (27-2) might have survived 11-15 St. Teresa’s with a subpar performance, they likely won’t be able to skirt by the Bulldogs, who have won 24 straight games.
    “I feel like it was kind of a reality check (on Wednesday),” Blue Springs senior Tyra Bickham said. “We knew we had to come in here and be ready, be focused, work hard and figure out what we need to do.”
    Kearney (25-2) gives up only 27.9 points per game and has held all but two of its opponents to less than 40 points. That includes a 40-35 triumph over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Truman in the Class 5 District 15 championship.
    In other words, this might not be the most visually appealing postseason showdown, Spigarelli said.
    “I think, obviously, every possession is going to be important,” said Spigarelli, whose team clipped the Bulldogs 34-31 in the season opener. “My guess is it’s not going to be a game the fans look at and say, 'Oh, this is a great, well-played basketball game.' It’s probably going to be a physical, sloppy, ugly game.”
    Kearney likes to alternate between a man and 2-3 zone defense and is anchored by 6-foot-4 sophomore Taylor Doan, who scored a team-high 13 points in Kearney’s 42-32 sectional win over North Kansas City. The Bulldogs also feature a stable of long-range threats like junior Meagan Paul, who drilled three treys against the Hornets.
    “It’s just whoever’s stronger mentally,” said Blue Springs senior Karyla Middlebrook, who posted a game-high 16 points against St. Teresa’s. “You have to have the strength mentally to box out your girl every time and make sure you secure those rebounds and do all the little things.”
    The Bulldogs entered the postseason with plenty of naysayers after rolling through the Suburban Small Six Conference, which includes only one other team with a winning record (Liberty North). Despite going 9-0 in league play and winning by an average of 35 points per game, Kearney didn’t garner a single vote in the final state poll.
    Page 2 of 2 - After upsetting Truman and knocking off the 24-4 Hornets, the Bulldogs proved their legitimacy and now hope to end Blue Springs’ string of four consecutive trips to the final four.
    Although postseason success is old hat for the Wildcats, they say their motivation to get back to Columbia is still as strong as ever.
    “This is the most fun time of the year,” said Spigarelli, who has guided Blue Springs to four straight state runner-up finishes. “It’s the most fun games of the year. It never gets old. We just want to get down there. We have a real hunger because we’ve never closed the deal. We’ve been there and tasted it, but we’ve never finished it.”
    Added Middlebrook: “It’s always going to be our No. 1 goal, our No. 1 priority. Until it happens, we’ve got to keep striving for it.”
    Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC

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