Mark Spigarelli celebrated his 55th birthday Tuesday with a present perfect for the Blue Springs girls basketball coach.
A signature victory.
Gift-wrapped with solid defense and big plays down the stretch, host Blue Springs held off Columbia Rock Bridge 55-51 in the Wildcats’ regular-season finale. The Wildcats will head into district play 20-5 and fresh off a victory over the No. 3-ranked team in Class 5.
“A great birthday gift and a great way to end a very good season,” Spigarelli said.
Blue Springs, ranked seventh in Class 5, won this showdown with an opportunistic defense that forced 13 Rock Bridge turnovers, the biggest one coming with 40 seconds left in the game.
With the Wildcats clinging to a 50-47 lead after four ties and seven lead changes, Blue Springs senior Aliyah Bello swiped a ball under Rock Bridge’s basket and fired it to Jada Williams, who was fouled as she drove the lane. Williams made both free throws and the Wildcats had the points they needed to hold off Rock Bridge (17-5) in the final seconds.
“That’s the strength of our team obviously, is our defense,” Spigarelli said. “We’re a work in progress on offense – some nights were good, some nights were not. We were good enough tonight on offense and real good on defense.”
Rock Bridge is no defensive slouch either. Switching between man-to-man and zone most of the game, the Bruins kept Blue Springs off-balance for most of the first half. And the Bruins’ big threesome of 6-foot-4 forward Kyrah Brodie and 5-10 guards Averi Kroenke and Eryn Puett blocked and altered shots under the basket.
“That’s what we’ve tried to do all year long – switch things up and make people uncomfortable,” Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said.
And Blue Springs did look uncomfortable as Rock Bridge jumped out to a 7-0 lead and ended the first quarter up 13-12. The Bruins, thanks to an early nine points from Puett, maintained a five-to-seven point margin most of the second quarter and led 23-19 at halftime.
“Their big (girl) got all the blocks and we had to figure out a way to maneuver around her and get smart, open looks and not take bad shots,” Williams said. “I definitely think we pulled that out.”
Williams only had seven points in the first half as she sat on the bench in foul trouble. That changed in the second half. She scored 11 of her team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats pulled away from a 34-34 tie.
Blue Springs took the lead for good on a basket by Kayleigh Jenkins that made it 43-41 with four minutes left. But with Kroenke scoring 10 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter, Rock Bridge stayed within one to two points. The turnovers kept them from catching the Wildcats.
“A few of those were unforced and poor decisions on our part,” Nagel said. “Wish we would have taken care of the ball a little bit better, but that’s a good team – two good teams battling and they came out on top this time.”
Bello scored 13 points and Jayla Sample added 12 for Blue Springs, which ended the regular season with five straight wins.
Puett finished with 15 points for Rock Bridge, which had won eight of its last nine.
Blue Springs is now off until Monday, when it faces either Raytown or St. Teresa’s Academy in the Class 5 District 14 tournament at Raytown.
Until then, Spigarelli and his team can enjoy his special present.
“I think that should help our confidence, but all that goes out the window come Monday,” Spigarelli said.