• Wildcats clinch Big Six girls basketball title

  • Until, as Lee’s Summit North coach Tricia Lillygren put it, “the wheels fell off,” her Broncos had been rolling right with Class 5 power Blue Springs.

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  • Until, as Lee’s Summit North coach Tricia Lillygren put it, “the wheels fell off,” her Broncos had been rolling right with Class 5 power Blue Springs.
    But when North hit a cold spell right after taking a 33-31 lead early in the third quarter, Blue Springs kicked into a higher gear. The Wildcats then hit overdrive in the fourth, pouring in 30 points to finish a 75-49 runaway and clinch the Suburban Big Six girls basketball title.
    “I thought it was our best half, for sure our best quarter, offensively,” Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli said after his team improved to 22-2 overall and 8-0 in the Big Six, clinching the title. “The ball moved well, and it seemed like we had fun doing it. And I’m proud of them doing it against a well-coached program like Lee’s Summit North.”
    For Spigarelli, it was a welcome change from the times the Wildcats have shrunk offensively and struggled to pull away late in games. Blue Springs shot 15 of 22 from the field and 14 of 16 at the free-throw line after halftime, committing just seven turnovers with none in the fourth quarter.
    The Wildcats looked to pull away early, as Karyla Middlebrook and Lizzy Wendell accounted for a 10-2 run to finish the first quarter, and two Morgan Hensley free throws made it 20-11 early in the second.
    But Tara Minx’s corner 3-pointer started a 9-1 run by Lee’s Summit North (14-7, 5-3 Big Six), and Erica Nelson’s second-chance 3-pointer with a minute left had the Broncos within 29-27 at halftime.
    Nelson started the second half with another trey off Imani Johnson’s kickout pass, and hit a third straight from long range after Wendell’s jumper at the other end.
    North had a chance to extend its lead, but Nelson was short with a 26-footer, the first of eight straight misses for the Broncos. Tara Sheehy’s 3-ball from the corner flipped the lead back to Blue Springs at 35-33, and the Wildcats never looked back, as Wendell scored off a pretty lob from Aliyah Lee in the closing seconds of the third to make it 45-37.
    “I thought we started playing better defense and we started sharing the ball on offense,” Spigarelli said. “We shifted (Tyra) Bickham to their point guard, and Bickham did a great job defensively. She bumped (Nelson) some and played physical.”
    “My goal was to not let her score anymore,” Bickham said.
    Middlebrook started the fourth with a pull-up jumper, Lee snared a steal and Bickham converted a three-point play to make it 50-37. From there, the rout was on.
    “Once that intensity came (on defense), we started moving the ball on offense,” said Bickham, who finished with 14 points. “It’s probably one of the best halves we’ve had all season. We were moving it around, getting everybody involved.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Per the usual, Bickham’s senior classmates Wendell and Middlebrook paced the offense. Wendell netted 29 points, never missing more than one shot in a quarter. She also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists. Middlebrook finished with 16 points and distributed seven assists. Sheehy and Lee chipped in with six points apiece.
    Lillygren said the Wildcats played a big part in the Broncos’ wheels falling off.
    “They’ve got a lot of kids that can score,” she said. “They used that ball screen well, and they buried shots.
    “I loved the way we played for a while. Then we started getting frustrated and we didn’t make very good passing decisions.”
    Nelson finished with 16 points and three assists for North. Johnson (14 points) and Jaden Powell (13) each snared eight rebounds.
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