A season-ending loss can be a gut-punch. Blue Springs coach Adam Jones felt like he took one Wednesday night.
Blue Springs boys basketball season ended in heartbreaking fashion with a 43-41 loss to Raymore-Peculiar in a Class 5 sectional game at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. And Jones felt the heartbreak as he contemplated Cooper Willich, the lone senior on the team.
“This hurts,” Jones said. “It hurts for Cooper. These guys are going to have a lot of success in that locker room and that is because of what Cooper’s giving that team.”
Willich wasn’t a big scorer – he fouled out without making a point in his final game – but he was an able floor leader for a young squad that exceeded expectations.
And while he will be missed, this also illustrates the 16-11 Wildcats’ very silver lining. He was the only senior, and the rest of the starting five – Kyle Bruce, Braden Appelhans, Ikenna Ezeogu and Michael Harrison – were sophomores.
Jones turned to one of sophomores with the game on the line Wednesday night. With the Wildcats trailing 41-39, he called a timeout to set up a shot for Appelhans, who can drive the basket and hit 3-pointers.
Appelhans launched a 3-pointer off a screen that went long, and Ray-Pec’s Jordan Jermain was fouled on the rebound with 3.7 seconds left. Jermain’s two free throws sealed the win.
“We were trying to get the ball to Braden to attack on the left and we had a counter to it on the other side,” Jones said. “We didn’t quite get it to that spot. It’s a play we’d been using throughout the night, getting him touches, getting him looks.
“Everybody on the floor felt confident in what we were doing there; it’s just Ray-Pec did a good job defensively.”
Blue Springs’ defense helped set a deliberate, half-court tempo and limit the effectiveness of Ray-Pec forward Kian Scroggins. Scroggins, a 6-foot-7 senior averaging more than 18 points a game, was held to 13 as he battled the 6-5 Ezeogu most of the game. When the two teams met in their regular-season finale Feb. 28, the Wildcats couldn’t keep up with the Panthers in a 73-48 loss.
“That was the idea, to slow them down and try to keep the score down a little bit,” Jones said. “We had ourselves a shot at the end which is what we were looking for.”
Few would have given Blue Springs a shot at postseason success after suffering two lopsided losses going into districts. But the Wildcats rediscovered their grit and toughness as they won their first district title since 2004.
Ezeogu, who averaged 16 points and 9.5 rebounds, developed into a force inside. Appelhans averaged 15 points a game for the season, Bruce became an inside/outside scoring threat and capable ball handler. Harrison turned in some of the toughest plays during the postseason run.
Throw in 6-8 forward Eli Wingert, whose junior season ended with a shoulder injury last December, and Jones has plenty of reasons to look forward to next season.
That didn’t quite ease the pain of Wednesday’s gut punch.
“We’re excited about that, but this one hurts for Cooper for sure,” Jones said.