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Wildcats benefit from attention to Appelhans

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Blue Springs guard Mike Harrison (11) goes up for a contested shot against Rockhurst defender John Michael Gyllenborg in Wednesday's game at Blue Springs High School. Harrison fired in 24 points to help the Wildcats to a 53-50 win.

Rockhurst boys basketball coach Pete Campbell came up with a modified box-and-one defense against Blue Springs’ Braden Appelhans for Wednesday’s game.

It proved to be a double-edged sword for the Hawklets.

Applehans scored just four points, but with so much emphasis on stopping the lanky, sharpshooting junior guard, his teammates took care of the offense and led the Wildcats to a 53-50 non-conference home win.

“We need to thank Braden for them concentrating on him so much,” said backcourt mate Mike Harrison, who scored a game-high 24 points, including six free throws and eight points in the deciding fourth quarter.

Blue Springs senior forward Eli Wingert, right, rises above the Rockhurst defense for a shot in Wednesday's game at Blue Springs High School. Wingert totaled 14 points and 11 rebounds to help the Wildcats down the Hawklets 53-50.

“Tonight you saw why we are a team. Everyone contributed. Man, Braden contributed because they had to work so hard to slow him down. And me and Ike (Ezeogu, eight points) and Eli (Wingert, 14 points, 11 rebounds) picked it up, like Braden does when we struggle.

“This is one of those wins you feel good about.”

Perhaps no one felt quite as good as Wingert, a 6-foot-8 senior forward. He helped the Wildcats claim a five-point lead they never relinquished with 3:25 left in the fourth quarter.

He hit a layup to make it 41-36, then grabbed a board, got fouled and hit two free throws to make it 43-36 with just 2:12 left.

“That was a big moment in the game,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said after his team improved to 15-4 with its third straight win. “The fourth quarter started tied (32-32), and that was really the first time either team had any breathing room.

“Eli played a great game, but I could say that about all our guys tonight. We got some big boards – with Eli grabbing a lot of them – and turned them into transition baskets or layups.

Blue Springs senior forward Eli Wingert, right, maneuvers around Rockhurst defender John Michael Gyllenborg for a basket in Wednesday's game at Blue Springs High School. Wingert tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds to help the Wildcats hold off the Hawklets for a 53-50 win.

“Ike had a big defensive game, and everyone really picked it up defensively in the fourth quarter.”

The Hawklets scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, but nine of those points came on three late 3-pointers that made the score seem much closer than it actually was.

“I was working hard on the boards tonight,” Wingert said, “and we all worked hard all night. It was a three-point game, but I felt like we were going to win once we got that seven-point lead late in the game.

“Coach had us prepared and we hit our free throws down the stretch, which was big.”

The Wildcats hit 15 free throws in the fourth quarter, with Ezeogu hitting two with 7 seconds left to make it 53-47 before the Hawklets hit a late desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Blue Springs forward Ike Ezeogu (22) scores while being surrounded by Rockhurst defenders in Wednesday's game. The Wildcats went on to claim a 53-50 win.

“I was confident the whole game, especially late in the game when Eli gave us that lead and we started hitting all our free throws,” Ezeogu said. “I’m proud of this team. This was a big win.”

John Michael Gyllenborg led the Hawlets with 20 points and Mason Thompson added 10.

Blue Springs guard Mike Harrison, left, goes up for a contested shot against Rockhurst defender Mason Thompson in Wednesday's game at Blue Springs High School. Harrison fired in 24 points to help the Wildcats to a 53-50 win.