After ending the regular season with two blowout losses, Blue Springs boys basketball coach Adam Jones saw a problem he had to address if the Wildcats didn’t want their next game to be their last.
“I just didn’t think we were very tough in those two games,” Jones said. “And that was the message we had going into districts. We said if we want to make a run in districts we’ve got to be a tougher team.”
Blue Springs got the message, and that got the Wildcats two tough wins and their first district title since 2004. And that got Blue Springs (16-10) a quick rematch with Suburban Big Six rival Raymore-Peculiar (24-3) in a Class 5 sectional game at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
The Blue Springs girls (22-5) will meet Lee’s Summit West (18-7) before the boys game at 3 p.m.
Blue Springs boys and Ray-Pec last met Feb. 28 with a share of the Big Six title on the line, and it was no contest. Ray-Pec led by 19 points in the third quarter and rolled to a 73-48 victory.
Two days before, the Wildcats journeyed to Rockhurst, which used a trapping defense that forced 16 turnovers and bombs-away 3-point shooting in a 72-54 romp.
“We really lacked a lot of focus towards the end of the year,” Blue Springs senior point guard Cooper Willich said. “Players were just not nearly as focused during practice, which was translating into the games.”
Jones sensed the lack of focus, which he said went hand-in-hand with the lack of toughness. Blown defensive assignments against Ray-Pec, for example, led to the Wildcats’ weakness.
“We had three guys guarding one guy at one point,” Jones said. “Our coaching staff did a good job harping on our guys that to make a push those little details are important. That’s what we’re calling our toughness.”
Blue Springs rediscovered its focus while grinding out two victories in last week’s Class 5 District 14 tournament at Raytown. In a 60-54 victory over Truman in the semifinals, the Wildcats battled back from a 14-point third-quarter deficit. And in a back-and-forth final with Blue Springs South, they held the Jaguars scoreless over the final 3 minutes to seal a 52-48 victory.
“During practice that last week we really turned things around,” Willich said. “We’re really showing that we can be a team that can make a run and in our district games we really showed a lot of toughness and grit.”
Blue Springs will need more toughness and grit against Ray-Pec, which beat the Wildcats twice during the regular season. Kian Scroggins, a 6-foot-7 forward, and point guard Jordan Jermain both average more than 18 points a game and spearhead a defense that’s allowing just 45.7 points a game.
That will be a challenge for 6-5 Blue Springs sophomore forward Ikenna Ezeogu, who is averaging 16 points a game, and 6-5 junior guard Braden Appelhans, who averages 15.2.
“We know them really well,” Jones said. “We know what they’re going to run. We’re the underdogs, we’re loose, we’re just going to go in and do what we do.”
Blue Springs’ girls also know their sectional opponent well and are also facing a team they haven’t beaten all season. Lee’s Summit West won 54-48 in the season opener for both teams in December and 57-42 last month.
But don’t get the idea that the Wildcats will be intimidated.
“They're a great team – you're not still playing if you're not a great team,” Blue Springs senior Allyah Bello said. “And we respect them, and we are excited to play them and see if we can get a win in the biggest game this season.”
Bello, a 5-9 guard, had what coach Mark Spigarelli called the best game of her career in the Wildcats’ 45-36 win over Truman in Saturday’s district title game. Besides scoring a team-best 12 points, Bello also led a solid defensive effort against the Patriots.
Spigarelli said the Wildcats will need to play clamp-down defense against Lee’s Summit West, which has three starters averaging more than 10 points a game.
"We have to play well both offensively and defensively if we want to beat a team like Lee's Summit West,” Spigarelli said. “The key to success Wednesday is patience. We cannot let them dictate the tempo of the game. We have to be patient and wait for the right shot.”
Wednesday’s winners will advance to quarterfinal games Saturday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, with the girls game at 1 p.m. followed by the boys game at 2:45 p.m.