Drama, intrigue and a never-say-die attitude by both teams filled the North Kansas City gymnasium Friday night during Blue Springs South’s 54-53 victory over Park Hill in the championship game of the Northland Classic.
When Blue Springs South senior Brooke Neal stepped to the free throw line with 17 seconds left, she was aware that her senior class had never won a tournament championship of any kind.
Adding to the pressure was the fact that the Jaguars trailed by a point after Park Hill junior Maliah Hudson made a free throw that gave the Trojans a 53-52 lead.
Neal calmly sank both free throws, putting Blue Springs South up by a point.
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"I knew I needed to knock them down," said Neal, who finished with 11 points. "I shot them like I do in practice.
"This means a lot to our team. We came up short in a lot of tournaments. We wanted to go out with a win."
Park Hill, which fought back from a 19-10 deficit after the first quarter and trailed 52-47 with 1 minute, 30 seconds left, nearly made Neal’s clutch free throws moot. With 4.8 seconds remaining, a 12-foot jump shot rimmed out. The Trojans grabbed the rebound and the put back attempt also rimmed out as time expired.
With the victory, the Jaguars improved to 12-6. Park Hill dropped to 14-5.
"It is always tough winning that first one," Blue Springs South coach Brad Oyler said. "You feel confident, but there are times you don’t know if you can do it.
"These girls stepped up at certain times of the game and got a loose ball or made a good defensive play."
Both teams played with the grit of postseason play.
"We talked in the locker room the last week or so about how much guts and heart they have shown and how much we have matured," Park Hill coach Aaron Nesser said. "This will better us in the future."
Blue Spring South entered the third quarter ahead 27-22 and then watched Park Hill senior Riana Everidge get hot. A three-pointer by Everidge gave Park Hill a 34-31 lead with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Park Hill senior Cloè Lane made a three-pointer with a second left in the third quarter, tying tied the game at 38-38.
"It was huge," said Lane, who finished with 20 points. "It was a way for our team to boost back up and start playing hard. I am just proud of our team."
Through the first 5 minutes in the fourth quarter, Blue Springs South executed its offense to perfection. Three times the Jaguars found sophomore Naia Tauai in the paint for layups.
Sophomore Tiffany Davenport and Neal each made a three-pointer, helping Blue Springs South build a 52-47 lead.
"It was nice," Oyler said. "We were able to execute. There were times we rushed things and not being very patient."
Park Hill answered with free throws by Everidge, who finished with 22 points. With 1:15 left, junior Amanda Alexander tied the game at 52-52 on a three-pointer in the corner.