Jada Williams delivers in the clutch to lift Blue Springs to district title
As Jada Williams stepped to the free throw line – with the score tied 49-all and just 2.8 seconds left in regulation – the Blue Springs sophomore guard wasn’t thinking about the pressure surrounding her situation.
“No, I was thinking about all our seniors last year who didn’t get to go to the final four because of COVID and our seniors on this year’s team who have earned the chance to go. And I wasn’t going to miss those free throws,” said Williams, who hit nothing but net on each attempt to lift the Wildcats to a 51-49 Class 6 District 14 championship over a gritty Raytown squad.
“We’re playing for our seniors this year and our seniors on last year’s team, and we’re going to do everything we can to get to the final four this year so we can all celebrate.”
One of the seniors from last year’s team who earned a trip to the final four only to have the postseason canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, attended Thursday night’s game.
“Oh my gosh, I was so nervous,” said Aliyah Bello, a freshman starter on the Lincoln University women’s basketball team in Jefferson City. “But when it came down to Jada hitting those free throws, I knew she was going to do it – now, they just have to keep on winning.”
Williams – who scored all nine Wildcats’ points in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 29 – said that’s the plan.
“I have so much respect for Raytown. They came over here and played a great game,” Williams said. “We had to regroup and get it together because they outplayed us a lot of the first half. But we have great coaches, and we knew what we had to do to win this game.”
Wildcats coach Mark Spigarelli said his team had to find a way to quit shooting itself in the sneakers.
“We were our own worst enemy tonight, and that’s not taking anything away from Raytown,” said Spigarelli, who was the coach at Pembroke Hill when Raytown head coach Elyseia Dunn played there.
“They made it tough on us, but we had that stretch where we made five straight stops and didn’t get a point out of it. We have a lot of things we need to clean up if we want to keep playing after next week.”
The 16-5 Wildcats travel to Lee’s Summit West to take on the Titans at 7 p.m. next Wednesday in a Class 6 sectional playoff.
There was one aspect of the game that put a smile on Spigarelli’s masked face – the performance of Williams, an all-state guard who is being recruited by many of the top Division I programs in the country.
“We had the right player at the line at the end of the game,” Spigarelli said of Williams, who was fouled by Amani Henry as she went up to shoot in the final seconds. “She’s played in so many big games, she’s not going to let the situation dictate how she plays.”
In fact, Spigarelli had to have a heart-to-heart with Williams after the first quarter, prompting her to get her teammates involved after she scored all nine points in the opening eight minutes.
“If she puts her head down and goes out and has to score every point, she’s going to wear herself out,” Spigarelli explained. “She knew exactly what I was talking about, and she got her teammates involved in the rest of the game.”
Blue Springs took a 24-20 lead into halftime, and senior Taitlynn Afualo had a big third quarter, scoring back-to-back layups, to give the Wildcats a 30-24 lead at 4:22.
“Spig was on my case at halftime, saying I needed to step it up,” said Afualo, who finished with eight points. “I was glad I was able to go out and get some points for the team.”
The game seesawed back and forth, until Raytown’s Stevi Yancy hit a 3-point basket with 2:43 left to knot it at 49-all. That would be the final points of the game for the Blue Jays, setting up Williams’ heroics at the free throw line.
Henry took a desperation shot at the buzzer for Raytown, but the ball hit the backboard and bounded away from the basket.
“I was guarding her,” Afualo said, “and I would have felt so bad if she would have made that shot. It was a big sigh of relief when she missed it. I’m a senior, and I want to be able to go to state and experience everything we missed out on last year.”
Gladys Brown scored 13 points to lead the Blue Jays, who finished 17-8.