Blue Springs Wildcats look to take step in return to final four

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Blue Springs guard Jada Williams drives the lane past Raytown's Stevi Yancy for two of her game-high 29 points in the Wildcats' 51-49 win over Raytown in the Class 6 District 14 championship last week. Williams, who is averaging 19 points per game, leads the Wildcats into Wednesday's Class 6 sectional playoff at Lee's Summit West.

Coach Mark Spigarelli’s Blue Springs girls basketball team earned a spot in the final four in 2020, only to have the state finals canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a heart-stopping 51-49 Class 6 District 14 win over Raytown last week, with sophomore sensation Jada Williams scoring a game-high 29 points and hitting the two game-winning free throws with just two seconds left in regulation, the Wildcats moved one game closer to returning to that stage again this season.

They take their next stop 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lee’s Summit West High School where the 16-5 Wildcats will meet the host Titans, who bring an 11-6 record into the Class 6 sectional playoff.

The two conference opponents met just one time this season, with the Wildcats claiming a 55-43 win. Their second Suburban Big Eight game was canceled because of frigid temperatures and the inability to reschedule late in the season.

“We have so much respect for those girls at Lee’s Summit West,” said Williams, an all-state guard as a freshman who is averaging 19 points and 3.7 assists per game this season. “Last year, they beat us in conference and we beat them in this exact same game. This year, we won conference and now we’re playing them again, and I know Wednesday night is going to be a great game.”

Blue Springs guard Jada Williams (3) drains a shot in last year's Class 5 sectional win over Lee's Summit West. Williams and the Wildcats meet the Titans again this year in the same round, only this season in the new Class 6.

So does Spigarelli, who quipped, “The parallels between this year and last year are interesting. I’m just hoping this doesn't flip this year – we’re having too much fun playing. And like everyone else on the team, we want to get to the final four this year and see what happens, really play the games.”

The Wildcats defeated the Titans 68-58 in last year's Class 5 sectional (this is the first season for Class 6 in basketball) before taking down an undefeated Liberty team 51-41 in the quarterfinal.

When Williams went to the free throw line in this year's district final against Raytown, she remembered a word of advice from longtime Blue Springs assistant coach Roger Lower.

“We talked about going to the free throw line, and he told me to not think about anything, just go out and make them,” she said, with a chuckle. “And that’s what I did. I said a little prayer and I know that God always has my back.

“I made those free throws for my team this year, and all the seniors who were on the team last year and didn’t get the chance to go to the final four. We’re dedicating this year to them, because we hope they’re with us in spirit, because we’re thinking about them all the time.”

Lee’s Summit West coach Jared Broughton, a former standout player at Grain Valley and former head girls coach at Oak Grove High School, is eager to see what his Titans do in this marquee rematch.

“We’re really playing well now,” Broughton said. “They got us last year, and we’re going to work hard to find a way to get a win Wednesday. This is a case where we know all about them, and they know all about us.

“We only played once this year, and it was quite a while ago. Both teams have improved since that game and like most games, the team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to have a better chance of winning.”

The Titans are led by junior Tasia Johnson, who averages 18.1 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game, and junior Morgan Pietig, who is putting up 7.4 points and 3.6 assists per game.

The winner advances to Saturday’s 1 p.m. state quarterfinal against Liberty or Staley.