Blue Springs held a senior night Friday, and for the boys basketball team it was a short and sweet celebration. The Wildcats have three seniors, and only one plays on the varsity.
That speaks volumes to the youth the Wildcats possess this season. But it belies the strength and grit they displayed against Raymore-Peculiar.
In a half-court slugfest against a bigger and older team, Blue Springs came up just short, giving the Panthers all they could take before falling 44-38 in a Suburban Big Six game on their home floor.
The Wildcats, even with one senior, played big-boy basketball.
“I really don’t consider us young,” said Blue Springs guard Cooper Willich, who is that lone senior. “Those sophomores and juniors in there have a lot of experience and they showed it tonight and they can compete with anyone around here.”
Ray-Pec (18-2, 5-0 Big Six) came in ranked No. 6 in Class 5 and with two prolific scorers in 6-foot-7 senior Kian Scroggins and 6-3 guard Jordan Jermain. Scroggins, who averages over 18 points a game, battled his way to 15. Jermain averages almost 19 points and he finished with 10, all but two from the free throw line.
Blue Springs sophomore forward Ikenna Ezeogu did a lot of the work against Scroggins, but early foul trouble limited his availability. The job of shutting down Jermain went to Willich.
“Cooper was phenomenal,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “He told me at halftime, ‘Don’t take me off him coach. Leave me in there and I’ll do what I can.’ He’s been the heart and the soul of this team all year.”
Ray-Pec was no slouch on defense, too. Blue Springs (11-7, 4-1) made just 3 of 10 shots in the second quarter and tallied only three points in the third.
Still, the Wildcats managed to jump out to a 17-9 lead in the first quarter and keep it well into the third.
“They were doing a good job defensively,” Jones said. “We had some good looks I thought we missed. We just didn’t capitalize on some opportunities in the paint in the second half.”
Ezeogu capitalized early, scoring eight of his team-high 12 points and outdueling Scroggins in the first quarter. But he also picked up two quick fouls at the end of the period.
A floater from Ezeogu with 4:25 left in the second quarter put Blue Springs up 19-13, but the Wildcats wouldn’t score again until the last 30 seconds before the half. But Scroggins made only two baskets, and Jermain had just two free throws in the period, which ended with Blue Springs clinging to a 23-19 lead.
“Their defense knocked our timing off,” Ray-Pec coach Scott Jermain said. “That happens when you’re playing in a good defensive game you can’t get in a rhythm.”
“We thought if we took (Scroggins and Jermain) out of the game we’d have a good shot at winning,” Willich said. “I thought overall that was probably our best defensive game we’ve played this year.”
Willich sank a free throw with 6:02 left in the third quarter that put Blue Springs up 26-21 and the Wildcats wouldn’t score again the rest of the period. Ray-Pec ended the period with a 10-0 run, taking the lead for good with an and-one drive by Scroggins.
Ray-Pec led 31-26 going into the fourth quarter and held off the Wildcats by going 11 of 12 from the line, including a 6-of-7 effort from Jermain.
“Our kids did some really good things in that game,” Jones said. “I was super proud of our effort. We just got in that third quarter when we didn’t score and that was kind of the difference.”
WILDCAT GIRLS ROLL: Jada Williams scored 15 points to lead Blue Springs’ girls to a 57-31 victory over Ray-Pec.
Blue Springs (15-4, 3-2) held Ray-Pec to four points in the first quarter and led 27-10 at the half. The Wildcats pulled away from there, building a 20-point lead late in the third quarter and outscoring the Panthers 16-8 in the fourth period.
Aliyah Bello also reached double figures for Blue Springs, scoring 12 points while going 6 of 7 from the line.
Aliyah Green led Ray-Pec (8-10, 0-6) with 12 points.