Fierce crosstown rivals. A raucous, jam-packed gym. A tie score with seconds to play.
How else could Friday’s Blue Springs-Blue Springs South boys basketball battle come to an end?
It had to be on a buzzer-beater, and Blue Springs sophomore Mike Harrison had the honors. When his shot banked in at :00, Blue Springs’ fans went crazy, and the Wildcats breathed a sigh of relief after escaping with a 54-52 Suburban Big Six victory on their home floor.
Harrison’s shot came after South’s Devin Tomlinson nailed a game-tying fadeaway 3-pointer with 17 seconds left that completed the Jaguars’ crawl back from a 10-point deficit. After South’s Cade Berg committed the Jaguars’ sixth team foul with 2.4 seconds left, Blue Springs coach Adam Jones called a timeout to draw up the winning play.
Cooper Willich then inbounded the ball on the baseline to Harrison, who disappeared in a sea of teammates and students as soon as his shot went in.
“Coach drew up a good play, and Coop made a good pass to me,” Harrison said. “And that was it.”
The shot was designed for Harrison, and Jones said his Wildcats executed it perfectly.
“When we got into the timeout, and everyone was looking me in the eye, we felt pretty confident about that last play,” Jones said. “We had one guy who didn’t go where he was supposed to go, but everybody else did a really good job.”
Blue Springs (10-5, 3-0 Big Six) remained confident even as South (8-8, 1-2) whittled away at its 48-38 lead at the end of the third quarter. Turnovers and missed shots held the Wildcats to six points in the fourth quarter, matching Berg’s total during a 9-2 stretch that put South within 52-49 with just under 3 minutes to play. Berg, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, led all scorers with 20 points.
While trying to drain some clock with 1:30 left, Blue Springs threw the ball away, sparking a flurry of turnovers and misses on both sides.
Tomlinson, who had 15 points, went wide on a three with 21 seconds left, then grabbed his own rebound and stepped back for another try that swished.
“We’ve gotten ourselves into some really good spots and then given them up,” Jones said. “It happened again but that was South. They were showing a lot of grit and making big plays when they needed to down the stretch. I don’t think it was necessarily something we did wrong, they just made some really good plays there.”
A near-capacity crowd with large and rowdy students sections on both sides provided an electric backdrop for a back-and-forth game. South charged out to an early 10-2 lead, but the Wildcats cut it to 16-14 by the end of the first quarter. They were deadlocked 28-28 at halftime after a second quarter that featured two ties and two lead changes.
“The atmosphere played a big factor in the game,” Harrison said. “The crowd got hyped and there was energy, and we feed off of that.”
After Berg scored the first basket of the third quarter, Blue Springs reeled off the next nine points for a 37-30 lead it wouldn’t relinquish until Tomlinson’s game-tying shot. Sophomore Braden Appelhans, the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 19 points, began the run with a 3-pointer; he hit another in the quarter’s final minute for a 48-37 Blue Springs lead.
Then the Jaguars started battling back for the thrilling finish – the only one fitting for this game. Jones expects the same atmosphere when the two rivals meet again – on Valentine’s Day.
“This is what high school basketball is all about,” Jones said. “Win or lose, these things are a lot of fun.”