There were times this season when Blue Springs South coach Josh Smith questioned the toughness of his Jaguars. Not anymore.
The Jaguars displayed plenty of toughness in Friday night’s 56-53 victory over top-seeded Raytown in a Class 5 District 14 basketball boys semifinal at Raytown High School. South (17-10) will now meet crosstown rival Blue Springs for the district title at 7 p.m. Saturday.
South advanced by making the plays it needed down the stretch in a tight contest that had the Jaguars battling back most of the way. Raytown (18-9) is physical and tough, and Smith’s Jaguars were too.
"I thought we showed an incredible amount of toughness tonight," Smith said. "You have to to win a game like that."
South trailed 42-39 going into the fourth quarter and hadn’t led since the second quarter. That changed when the Jaguars opened the fourth period with a 9-2 run for a 48-44 lead. Devin Tomlinson made the first two baskets of the run which Dallas Whitney capped with a drive down the lane.
South never trailed again, but Raytown stayed close. When Terrence Jones Jr. sank two free throws with 33 seconds left, the Blue Jays were within 55-53.
And when Tomlinson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 22 seconds left, the Jaguars could have been in big trouble, especially after Raytown got the ball after Jones missed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.
But Raytown double-dribbled shortly after inbounding the ball, and Johnny George hit one of two free throws with 1.3 seconds left to seal it.
"Sometimes we struggle with mental toughness," said Tomlinson, who led South with 17 points. "But we know now, especially with districts and playoff time, we just need to keep our heads in it and look forward to the next play."
South led 18-16 when Khayden Hooks hit a buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter. Raytown’s Aaron Franklin had 11 of his 21 points in the quarter, and he scored three more baskets in the second period as Raytown took a 30-27 lead into halftime.
Raytown never led by more than five, but the Jaguars couldn’t catch up as the Blue Jays kept driving the lane for points. But that would change in the fourth quarter.
"Early in the season, we had a difficult time taking a punch and responding," Smith said. "The last couple of weeks where we’ve played pretty well, we’ve shown the ability to do that."
George also reached double figures for South with 13 points, eight of them coming in the fourth quarter. Hooks finished with 11 points.