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Wildcats edge Kearney again for tourney title

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner

KEARNEY, Mo. – Blue Springs and Kearney were inches away from another overtime game.

Kearney’s last second 3-point attempt missed, clanging off the rim and hitting the floor, which allowed Blue Springs to escape with a 61-58 victory in the championship game of Kearney’s Bulldog Classic Saturday night.

The two teams met in the semifinals of the William Jewell Holiday Classic last month and Blue Springs escaped with a 62-59 win in overtime.

The Wildcats (9-2) had a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Kearney (8-4) never went away, slowly chipping away at the deficit. Brennan Watkins, who scored 28 points, became the go-to-play for the Bulldogs down the stretch, scoring 13 in the fourth and twice pulling Kearney within three points.

He missed the final shot of the game that could’ve forced overtime.

“We’ve been in a bunch of these games already and I like the way we are trending,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “The first two we came up on the short end and this showed we are learning as we advance.”

After opening the season with a win against Rockhurst, Blue Springs lost back-to-back overtime games against Staley and Park Hill. Since then, the Wildcats haven’t lost, now winners of eight in a row.

As late as 3 ½ minutes to play, Blue Springs held an eight-point lead – it opened the fourth up 39-32 – but the Bulldogs started to rally on their home floor. Watkins hit a 3-pointer and, after the Wildcats hit only one of two free-throw attempts, he drew a foul on a 3-pointer and made all three shots with 2:46 left.

That pulled Kearney within three and the Bulldogs had a chance to tie it but missed a 3-pointer. Blue Springs guard Kyle Bruce scored with 1:23 left and then hit the first of six straight free throws with 1:06 left. 

Kearney pulled within 56-54 after a jumper by Braxton Breedlove with 37.9 seconds left, but Bruce hit four free throws, two with 35.5 seconds and then two more with 18.6 seconds remaining. The latter made it 60-55.

“It kind of scared me a little bit,” Bruce said of Kearney’s comeback. “But we got to end the game out with free throws.”

Blue Springs, for the most part, did that, hitting 7 of 9 in the final minute.

Watkins banked in a 3-pointer, which he shot off of one leg, before falling out of bounds with 12.5 seconds left. Kearney called a timeout and then Jones had to call a timeout as the Wildcats were in danger of getting a five-second call on the inbound play.

The Wildcats got the ball inbounds and Braden Appelhans drew a foul with 5 seconds left. He hit the first one, but missed the second. That gave a slight chance for Kearney, who got the ball to Watkins. 

The loss was the fourth in a row for Kearney against Blue Springs, including a five-point loss in this tournament two years ago. The four losses have been by a combined 18 points.

“I told Coach (Dillon) Starzl we have played 11 games and that is one of the toughest teams we have played,” Jones said. “They are gritty and they come after you. I have a lot of respect for the job he is doing. He is doing a good job.”

Kearney led 11-9 after the first quarter and 26-23 at halftime but was limited to only six points in the third quarter. That was when the Wildcats made the move to take the lead with an 8-0 run, their first advantage in the game.

Eli Wingert, who had eight points, had a layup and a dunk on consecutive plays that gave Blue Springs the lead and then a cushion. Kearney was held without a basket for the first 3 ½ minutes of the third quarter and had only one basket over the final 3:49 of the quarter.

Ike Ezeogu, who had a team-high 17 points, scored four points in the final minutes of the third period to give Blue Springs the seven-point lead going into the fourth.

He was one of three players to score in double figures for Blue Springs. Appelhans finished with 16 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter. Bruce totaled 14 points, eight of them in the final quarter.

Ezeogu, Appelhans and Wingert were named to the all-tournament team, as was Watkins and Ashton Holloway, who had 21 points for Kearney.