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Wildcats roll into final with seventh straight win

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner

KEARNEY, Mo. — Blue Springs kept its winning streak going and ended Platte County’s in the semifinal of the Bulldog Classic on Thursday night.

The Wildcats reached the final of a tournament for the second time this year but entered as the only team in the semifinals not ranked in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll.

That didn’t stop Blue Springs from winning its seventh in a row, beating the previously unbeaten Pirates 55-51 in the first semifinal at Kearney High School.

“There are some really tough teams and there are some good teams on the other side,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “We had our hands full with an undefeated Platte County. It is a really good tournament.

“Platte County has won a lot of games and they will continue to win a lot. We beat a good team. They played well and share the ball well and I think our kids do, too. It was a good high school basketball game.”

The back-and-forth contest went down to the wire but Blue Springs added a cushion in the fourth and never relinquished the lead against Platte County (8-1).

The Wildcats (8-2) held a 37-35 lead going into the final quarter and extended it when Kyle Bruce hit a jumper on the first possession. That was the start of an 8-3 run and built a 47-40 lead over Platte County, ranked No. 3 in Class 5.

The Pirates countered quickly, starting with a 3-pointer Alex McClure. A goaltending call and a layup by Joey Schultz cut the Blue Springs lead to 49-47 with 4 minutes left. Platte County had the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead twice, but came up empty both times.

Over the next two minutes, Ike Ezeogu scored four points to help Blue Springs extend the lead – the latter after the Pirates cut the lead to 51-49 with 2:32 to play.

Up 53-49, the Wildcats forced a Pirate turnover with 12.5 seconds left. Calvin Griffin went to the line and hit a free throw with 11.8 seconds left for Blue Springs, making it 54-49.

Platte County got to the line twice in the final 4.8 seconds but hit only two of the four shots.

The fourth quarter lead wouldn’t have been possible without the gallant effort of junior Braden Appelhans.

The guard scored 13 of his 15 points that helped the Wildcats overcome a 30-23 deficit early in the third quarter. He kickstarted a 10-0 run, scoring eight straight points.

Jaden Burnett hit a 3-pointer for the Pirates to tie the game at 1:27 but a pair of free throws by Appelhans gave the Wildcats the lead for the final time.

“We knew in the first half we weren’t playing our best and halftime coach got on us and we had to play with more energy,” Appelhans said. “We have been in that position before (trailing) against Raytown in the Jewell championship.

“We knew we were still in it, we just had to get defensive stops. We knew they could shoot it well and we knew that coming into the game. When they score, we come right back at them. Don’t give them time to breath.”

Ezeogu joined Appelhans in double figures by scoring 12 points. Schultz paced the Pirates with 12.

Blue Springs will play Kearney, ranked No. 8 in Class 5, at 8 p.m. in the championship game. The Bulldogs beat No. 9 St. Joseph Lafayette 50-42 in the other semifinal Thursday. In case of a weather delay, the championship game will be moved to Saturday.

This will be a rematch of a thriller earlier this season in the William Jewell Holiday Classic, which the Wildcats won 62-59 in overtime.

“It is what we work for; it is our goal to win every tournament,” Appelhans said. “It has been fun the last few weeks.”