Jaguars can't hang with Jays in the end

By Michael Smith
The Examiner
Blue Springs South guard Sonny McCreary, left, tries to dribble around Liberty defender Javion Byers in Thursday's game at South. The host Jaguars fell 82-64 in the regular season finale for their third straight loss.

Blue Springs South head coach Josh Smith knew he had some tough challenges ahead of him and his Jaguars with a game against No. 9-ranked Liberty Thursday and a 20-5 Raytown team on Tuesday in the Class 6 District 14 tournament.

The Liberty Blue Jays have been one of the best offensive teams in the state, averaging 70.3 points per game. Their offense proved to be potent against the Jaguars, especially in the second half in which the Blue Jays outscored South 43-30 in an 82-64 Suburban Big Eight road victory.

Liberty was led by the sharp-shooting Luke Stubbs, who fired in a game-high 23 points while connecting on five 3-pointers, four of which came in a pivotal third quarter. Bennett Stirtz added 17.

“I would describe them as a three-headed monster,” Smith said of Liberty. “Stirtz, Stubbs and (Javion) Byers are all capable of carrying a team. They are that good.”

Against South, Liberty showed its offensive versatility and had constant motion off the ball, crisp passing and multiple players who could score anywhere on the floor. It led to baskets from 3-point range and in the paint.

Blue Springs South senior forward Devin Tomlinson, right, drives to the hoop against Liberty's Kellen Goodwin in Thursday's regular season finale at South. Tomlinson returned from an injury but the Jaguars fell 82-64 for their third straight loss.

“They are a well-rounded, good-quality team,” South senior Devin Tomlinson, who returned from an injury, said of Liberty, which has won nine straight. “I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the elite eight or the final four, competing for a state championship.

“You can’t single out one person. You have to guard everyone.”

Liberty (21-3), which wrapped up the Big Eight title with a 13-1 mark, led South 24-17 at the end of the first period and 39-34 at halftime. Tomlinson, Dallas Whitney and Sonny McCreary each had seven first-half points to keep the Jaguars in it.

The Jaguars started on an 8-3 run to take a 42-41 lead early in the third quarter after Tomlinson put in two of his team-high 18 points on a driving layup. He and Ty Mauck fueled the run with four points each.

Blue Springs South's Ty Mauck, left, leaps for a shot over Liberty defender Luke Stubbs in Thursday's regular season finale at South. The Jaguars suffered their third straight loss with an 82-64 setback.

However, Stubbs gave the Blue Jays the lead for good when he nailed a 3-pointer to put his team back up by two. He connected on 4 of 5 attempts from behind the arc in the period. Each time it seemed like the Jaguars (11-11, 8-6 Big Eight) were closing the gap, Stubbs or another Blue Jay hit a back-breaking three. Liberty went into the fourth up 60-53 following a pair of late free throws from Addison Smith.

“Luke was phenomenal,” Liberty coach Roger Stirtz said. “I told him when he came out of the game, he was the man when we needed a man.”

Liberty then turned up the defensive intensity in the fourth, holding the Jaguars to 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, Liberty got into the paint at will, scoring 10 of their 22 points in the paint in the fourth. After Bennett Stirtz completed a three-point play early in the quarter to make it 67-55, South trailed by double digits the rest of the way, with Liberty leading by as many as 17.

“Our offense was better than it has been,” Smith said. “That’s not saying much, though. We have been struggling lately. We looked better tonight and we competed at a high level. That’s all I asked the guys to do before the game.”

The Jaguars, who enter district off three straight losses, now turn their attention to Raytown (20-5), which defeated them 70-61 on Dec. 22. Including Raytown, the Jaguars' last four opponents, which includes also Blue Springs and Park Hill, have a combined 74-16 record.

“They are outstanding as well, so we are going to have our hands full in the district opener next week,” Smith said of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game at Raytown High School. “They are aggressive, physical and as athletic as can be. They are a tough matchup for anybody. We need to bring our A-game and match their physicality.”

Whitney added 14 points for South and Mauck finished with 12.

Blue Springs South's Ty Mauck, right, drives the baseline against Liberty defender Palmer Holst (23) in Thursday's regular season finale at South. The Jaguars suffered their third straight loss with an 82-64 setback.