In late January, with his team still sporting an undefeated record, Blue Springs South coach Jimmy Cain held a meeting with his staff. In the ensuing conversation, he voiced concerns about the motivation of his players, who had spent the previous months talking about a state championship and little else.
“We still had three or four weeks left in the regular season, but they had their eye on the postseason,” Cain said. “I think that’s what cost us a couple of games late in the year.”
Short-term consequences — but long-term benefits.
Blue Springs South reached that ultimate goal Saturday, capturing the first Missouri Class 5 boys championship in school history with a 71-57 win against Park Hill South at Mizzou Arena.
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“A dream come true,” Blue Springs South senior Kevin Puryear said. “That’s what I would call it.”
In the first Missouri state championship game since 1977 to feature two Kansas City schools — and the first ever in Class 5 — the Jaguars never trailed and held off a 26-point effort from Park Hill South senior James Byrd.
“I thought Blue Springs South played one heck of a game,” Park Hill South coach Dan Parra said. “They beat us up and down the court.”
On a team noted for two future Division I players — Puryear and junior KJ Robinson — it was senior Brandon Kilgore who provided the key baskets in the second half that ensured the Jaguars never trailed.
Until a technical foul ended his night. Kilgore picked up his fourth and fifth personal fouls on the same play, the latter a technical for twirling the leg of Park Hill South guard Jacob Kline while they fought for a loose ball.
The Panthers, 26-4, turned the technical into a six-point possession and trimmed the score to 57-52, but they were unable to replicate the magic that produced a comeback one day earlier against top-ranked Chaminade.
“I thought that might have been a little spark for us,” Park Hill South senior Mitch Henderson said. “But we just weren’t able to get any stops, and that really hurt us.”
Kilgore proved to be the toughest matchup for the Panthers, who won a school-record 26 games. He did most of his damage on the dribble-drive and finished with 23 points on just 11 shots. Fifteen of those points came after halftime, when Kilgore led the effort to keep Park Hill South at arm’s length a day after the Panthers erased a 13-point deficit in the second half against Chaminade.
Puryear added 15 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 2:03 remaining.
“When we get pressured when we have a lead, we become very dangerous,” Cain said. “Their first reaction when they get pressured is to attack. ... That’s what Brandon did tonight, for the most part.”
The moments were less tense for the Jaguars in the opening minutes.
Blue Springs South, 29-2, scored the game’s first 10 points — with the initial eight coming from Robinson. Robinson was largely silenced in Friday’s semifinal victory against St. Louis University, when he needed 11 shots to supply 11 points.
Not Saturday. Robinson followed an early jumper with two three-pointers, culminating in an eight-point run in the first 2 minutes, 20 seconds. He finished with 15 points.
His point guard counterpart, Byrd, started hot, too. And he only heated up as the first half wore on.
With Blue Springs South’s defense zeroed in on Panthers leading scorer Ryan Welty, Byrd made four three-pointers and scored 18 points before halftime. Wel
ty didn’t attempt his first shot until the opening possession of the third quarter and finished with seven points.
And it was that effort on the defensive end that Puryear and Cain say separated this season’s Blue Springs South team from its district-championship winners of the past.
Well, there was one other separator:
That early-season focus.
“We came into the year, and all these guys talked about was wanting to win the whole thing,” Cain said. “We’ve had some great teams at our school over the past several years, and we’ve accomplished some things, but all these guys talked about was wanting to win the first state championship in school history.”