Blue Springs head girls basketball coach Mark Spigarelli said he can tell a big difference in his team’s chemistry recently.
“We’ve been talking about playing for each other,” Spigarelli said. “I felt a different energy tonight. I think they might have made a breakthrough in playing for each other and not for various, different reasons.”
It showed on the court in Thursday’s Suburban Big Six matchup at Lee’s Summit North.
The Broncos were nipping at the heels of the Wildcats late in the third quarter and most of the the fourth, but the clutch play of freshman point guard Ja’Cole Johnson and junior Aliyah Bello spoiled Lee’s Summit North’s senior night in a 41-38 win.
“I thought we did a good job surviving some adversity,” Spigarelli said. “Sometimes we haven’t always done it. We did a really nice job when things were not looking good for us. I thought we kept our composure.
“I saw them huddling up before the game. I saw them communicating more. And I saw contributions from a lot of different people. And no one was feeling sorry for themselves if they weren’t contributing. It was a good team win.”
Blue Springs (11-10, 5-5 Big Six) went into halftime up 20-15 and led by as many as 10 in third period when it went on a 8-3 run. The spurt ended on a razor sharp interior pass from junior Jayla Sample to a wide-open Lily Queen for a layup.
The Broncos countered with a 8-0 spurt capped by a no-look pass from senior Anija Frazier to an open Halle Fee for a layup to make it 28-26 going into the final frame.
Frazier temporarily gave the Broncos the lead when she hit a pair of free throws to start the period and shortly after hit a 3-pointer, which was sandwiched around a basket inside from Blue Springs junior forward Katy Knudsen, giving her team a 31-30 lead. Bello later got a steal and was fouled. She made both of her free throws with 3:42 left to give her team a 32-31 lead.
The teams traded baskets to make it 34-33 before Johnson drove from the right wing and made a scoop driving layup while being fouled. She completed a conventional 3-point play to push the Wildcat lead to 37-33.
North threw a counter punch when junior Mimi Brown scored a basket inside and Frazier, who had a game-high 18 points, made a coast-to-coast layup with 53.1 seconds left.
The Broncos (4-15, 2-7) immediately fouled Johnson, who swished in both of her free throws to give the Wildcats the lead for good at 39-37.
“It was big for a freshman to do that in a loud, rowdy gym,” Spigarelli said.
Added Johnson, who had team high 13 points: “I had to (block the crowd noise out). It was a close game. I had to make those. It’s not that hard. I just play my game.”
After North cut the lead to 39-38, Bello hit a pair of free throws to make it 41-38. Before those free throws, she played tenacious defense on Frazier, who missed a driving floating jump shot. Bello then made the biggest defensive play of the game in the final 10 seconds when she blocked Sydney Allen’s 3-point attempt to secure the win.
“I just knew I couldn’t foul and I couldn’t let them score,” said Bello, who finished with eight points. “I did everything I could to not let that happen.”
So, how did the chemistry improve for the Wildcats?
“We hang out more,” Bello said.
Even with the loss, North coach Tricia Lillygren was pleased with the way her team played in the second half.
“They battled hard and played great (defense),” she said. “They did what we asked them to do. It just didn’t seem to fall our way. We’ve been in a lot of close games against really good teams. We just haven’t been able to finish in the final minute or two.”