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Examiner
  • Blue Springs' title hopes shot down again

  • Entering Friday night's Class 5 girls state semifinal contest against Columbia Rock Bridge, Blue Springs girls basketball coach Mark Spigarelli understood his team would need to not only execute his game plan to near perfection to have a shot at unseating the defending state champs, but probably catch a few breaks along the way.

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  • Entering Friday night's Class 5 girls state semifinal contest against Columbia Rock Bridge, Blue Springs girls basketball coach Mark Spigarelli understood his team would need to not only execute his game plan to near perfection to have a shot at unseating the defending state champs, but probably catch a few breaks along the way.
    Spigarelli received one of those prerequisites. Despite falling 43-32 to the second-ranked Bruins at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, he offered very few negatives about his squad's effort. He did, however, throw some jabs at the game's officiating crew.
    In Spigarelli's opening comments following the game, he withheld no punches, criticizing the referees within the first minute of his statement.
    “I know we're not supposed to break our cardinal rule, but if the game's officiated that way and they let 6-foot-4 girls go over our back, there's not a whole lot we can do,” Spigarelli said.
    Spigarelli went further, noting that the fourth-ranked Wildcats (28-3) nearly drew even on the boards with Rock Bridge in the first half (14-13), before the Bruins ended with a 39-23 rebounding edge. He also pointed out that senior Lizzy Wendell, who led Blue Springs with 13 points, repeatedly drove aggressively to the rim, yet only shot three free throws the entire game.
    “I take my hat off to Rock Bridge,” Spigarelli said. “They're an outstanding team, probably the best team in the state. I just thought it was a very poorly officiated game.”
    While the officiating was the first problem Spigarelli identified, he later admitted the Wildcats' poor shooting performance was probably the primary reason they came up short of advancing to their fifth consecutive state title game.
    Blue Springs ran a patient, deliberate offense, which allowed them to neutralize some of Rock Bridge's superior size and athleticism. But too often, when the Wildcats generated open looks, they failed to convert, finishing 13 of 43 from the field.
    “That ultimately was probably the reason we lost,” Spigarelli said. “… I think that's what it boils down to why we lost. We didn't hit open shots.”
    Despite all that, the Wildcats kept the Bruins (24-5) on edge for nearly the entire contest. After falling to Rock Bridge 64-32 in the second game of the season, Blue Springs was as close as 30-29 after senior Karyla Middlebrook sank a 3-pointer with 4:55 remaining.
    But Rock Bridge's star sophomore Sophie Cunningham immediately answered with a trey, which sparked a 7-0 run. Wendell converted a three-point play to bring Blue Springs within 37-32 with 1:57 left, but the Bruins scored the game's final six points on three straight layups.
    Middlebrook finished with 12 points and Wendell grabbed nine rebounds. Sophomore Cierra Porter, a University of Missouri recruit, led Rock Bridge with 12 points and 15 boards, Audrey Holt added 12 points and Cunningham, who also has committed to Mizzou, ended with six points and nine rebounds.
    Page 2 of 2 - Now, after advancing to the championship in the previous four seasons, the Wildcats find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to shake off a loss before their final game.
    “I think we're going to take that individually,” senior Tara Sheehy said. “We each have our different rooms we're going to tonight and we'll cope with it, but I mean, we have to come ready to play.”
    Blue Springs will take on Cor Jesu Academy at 1:15 p.m. today at Mizzou Arena. The unranked Chargers (21-10) fell 47-31 to No. 3 St. Joseph's Academy on Friday.
    And while Spigarelli said finishing third or fourth isn't all that significant to a program thirsting for its first state title, sending his four-player senior class out on a positive note is incredibly meaningful.
    “These seniors and this team has done things the right way all year,” he said. “I've had as good of leadership as I've had as a coach in 20 years and I'd just like them to go out with a win.”
    Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC
     
     

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