COLUMBIA — Blue Springs senior Karyla Middlebrook was the last player to leave the Mizzou Arena floor Friday night.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
She walked slowly across the baseline with her head tilted toward the ground, seemingly soaking in the finality of this moment for a few extra seconds while her teammates jogged past her.
Middlebrook has experienced this before — the pain that accompanies coming so close to a goal only to fall a game or two short. Except this time there are no more chances.
Rock Bridge dealt Blue Springs a 43-32 loss in the Class 5 semifinals Friday night, sending Blue Springs into Saturday’s 1:40 p.m. third-place game, where it will face Cor Jesu Academy.
It marks the fifth consecutive season the Wildcats have reached the Class 5 state tournament only to return home without a first-place trophy. And for a group of prominent seniors — most notably future Division I players Middlebook and Lizzy Wendell — time has run out on future opportunities.
After falling to Rock Bridge by 32 points earlier this season, Blue Springs changed the tempo of Friday’s rematch in its favor, effectively slowing down the game and limiting possessions.
For three quarters, the strategy worked. Middlebrook buried a three-pointer from the right wing, trimming the margin to one with 4:52 remaining.
“We’re a team that we have enough players to where we can speed things up,” senior Tyra Bickham said. “It was a little bit of a challenge slowing the ball down, but I feel like we accomplished it.”
Middlebook scored 12 points and Wendell added 13 more, but the tandem needed 31 shots for that output.
Rock Bridge shot only 38.6 percent, but it grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the second half and used its size to turn those into 12 points in the paint in the fourth quarter alone.
“If the game is officiated that way, and they let 6-foot-4 girls go over our backs, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli said. “I’m not taking anything away from Rock Bridge. ... I just thought it was a very poorly officiated game.”