The confrontations served as bookends, one at the beginning, one at the end.
And they symbolized all the grit and drama in between when Blue Springs and Blue Springs South clashed with the Class 5 District 14 boys basketball title on the line Saturday night.
Blue Springs’ Mike Harrison was involved in both. He pulled down South’s Cortes Essex as he tried to turn a steal into a layup in the opening minutes. That resulted in some pushing and jawing. In the closing seconds, he shoved another Jaguar doing the same thing, and that led to more heated exchanges and a technical foul.
“The first one, I just had to make a hard foul and set the tone for the game,” Harrison said. “And my team responded very well.”
And how. In between the Wildcats and Jaguars battled back and forth until Blue Springs hung on in the final seconds for a 52-48 victory in a jam-packed gym at Raytown High School.
Blue Springs (18-10) needed grit and guile to fend off a South team it had beaten three times before during the season. The Wildcats routed South in the first meeting, but the other two came down to the wire.
And so would this one, after nine ties and six lead changes.
The second fracas occured not long after a Kyle Bruce layup put Blue Springs up 51-48 with 1 minute and 25 seconds left in the game. That came after South’s Johnny George scored to make it a one-point game with about 3 minutes to go.
South (17-11) wouldn’t score again.
The Jaguars, 2 for 10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, missed on four tries in the final minute. After forcing a turnover with a full-court trap, the Jaguars missed three shots on the ensuing possession.
“We didn’t execute as well as we needed to,” South coach Josh Smith said. “And that’s disappointing. I thought we played with a championship level effort, but sometimes basketball is a game of who makes the fewest mistakes, especially down the stretch.”
This game had a different feel from the first three encounters, which were also intense crosstown rival contests. This time the big guys – Ikenna Ezeogu of Blue Springs and Devin Tomlinson and Cade Berg of South – didn’t dominate play. For the most part, they canceled each other out. Ezeogu still led Blue Springs with 12 points despite having Jaguars draped over him most of the way. Tomlinson, who scored 17 points the night before against Truman, had only seven.
It was the guys in the backcourt who took up the slack, especially for the Jaguars. Point guard Khayden Hooks slashed his way to 19 points for South while George finished with 14.
“It was a physical game inside,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “Both teams had a different type of game plan against each other’s post players and they kind of neutralized each other.”
Added Harrison, who finished with 11 points: “It was a real different game. We just came out ready to play and stuck to the defensive plan so everything was good.”
Blue Springs led 12-8 after a back-and-forth first quarter. The Jaguars found success pushing the ball upcourt for quick baskets early in the second quarter, and that fueled a 12-2 run that led to a 28-25 halftime lead. South ended the third quarter up 40-38 after three ties and two lead changes.
All of which set the tone for another dramatic finish.
“We’ve been in a lot of games this season where we’ve been in those situations and it hasn’t come out real well,” Jones said. “You just want your team to grow and get better as you go. And what better time to be playing good ball than in a district championship game?
Blue Springs, which won its first district title since 2004, will play Raymore-Peculiar in a sectional game at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.