When his Blue Springs girls basketball team took a 16-1 lead against Lee’s Summit West Wednesday in a Class 5 sectional playoff, coach Mark Spigarelli knew it was no time to relax.
The Titans had beaten his Wildcats twice in conference play during the regular season and he didn’t think any lead would be safe until the final tick of the clock.
And he was right as the Titans mounted a furious second-half comeback only to see the Wildcats stave it off.
Freshman guard Jada Williams scored a game-high 32 points and senior Aliyah Bello added 11 points and 14 rebounds – including seven offensive boards that resulted in 12 points – as the Wildcats claimed a 68-58 victory at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena and punched their ticket to Saturday’s 1 p.m. state quarterfinal.
"Us youngins’ had to take care of our seniors today, because we don’t want the season to end for us, and we really don’t want it to end for our four seniors," Williams said as she was embraced by Bello.
"I didn’t get the job done when we beat Truman (in the district title game, where she did not hit a field goal and scored just seven points from the free throw line), and I had to come out today and prove what type of player I am.
"I wasn’t proving it to the fans, or anyone else, just my coaches and my teammates. I was feeling it today – and so was this girl."
That remark brought another hug from Bello, who came up with big rebound after big rebound, especially early when she kept feeding Williams for easy layups and 15-foot jumpers.
"This girl, this girl is so special," said Bello, a senior who has said throughout the playoffs that she does not want to play her final game until the state championship in Springfield. "I worked hard defensively and I word hard getting those rebounds, because I knew the way Jada and my teammates were playing we were going to do something special."
When asked about the play of Williams and Bello, a big smile came to Spigarelli’s face, as his team improved to 23-6.
"Jada has had some big games for us this season," he said of Williams, the freshman guard who has received attention because of her AAU success, "but given the circumstances, this might be her best.
"And (said) that Aliyah played her best game of the season in that win over Truman, but she played even better today. Her rebounds were huge, and we put her on No. 22 (junior guard Morgan Pietig) and we made her earn every point she scored."
Blue Springs took an 18-5 lead into the second period and led 31-14 at halftime after the early surge.
"I knew we could come back, I just knew we had to get off to a good start in the third quarter, and we were able to do that," said Pietig, who scored 10 of her 13 points in the third quarter as the Titans scored 24 points, to cut the deficit to 48-38 going into the final quarter.
"We worked so hard – and our coaches worked so hard, and gave us great motivational speeches at halftime to get us fired up," Pietig added. "And to be honest with you, we got close and I think we just ran out of gas. But we gave it everything we had."
With 5:03 left, Pietig hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 52-46, but Bello came up with a steal and drove for the layup. She was fouled and her and-one put the lead back to 55-46.
"My girl can score, my girl can rebound and my girl can play defense," Williams said of Bello.
The Wildcats hit 11 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to ice the win.
Sophomore Tasia Johnson scored 10 of her team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Titans, who finished 18-8.