Kearney girls’ basketball coach Troy Resler knows his team will have a large cheering section in Springfield.
Bulldogs fans turn out in droves wherever their teams play and, with some neighbors also in the house, that following could grow even larger.
“I can see Kearney and Liberty hooking up in Springfield, too,” Resler said. “We’re kind of rivals around here, but you get out there and I imagine we’ll partner up and pull together.”
No reason why not, since Kearney and Liberty aren’t competing for the same titles during the Class 4 and 5 girls’ and boys’ state tournament at JHQ Arena.
Kearney (26-3) meets Incarnate Word Academy of St. Louis (25-5) at 4:15 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
There will be plenty of Liberty fans, too.
For the first time in the school’s history, Liberty’s boys and girls both reached the state semifinals. The Blue Jays boys (22-7) meet defending champion Webster Groves at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday and the girls take on Kirkwood (26-3), also a defending champion, at 5:10 p.m. on Thursday.
Kearney is making only its second state appearance in girls’ basketball and first since 1986, when the Bulldogs placed second in Class 3A.
Playing in their first quarterfinal since 2013, the Bulldogs gutted out a 55-44 victory against Lincoln College Prep on March 10 at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence to advance.
Kearney saw a 12-point lead dwindle to three early in the fourth quarter before Taylor Frizzell made two free throws that got the Bulldogs going again. Frizzell, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer at 15 points per game, led Kearney with 16 points. Callie Schwarzenbach — the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-5 senior forward, who averages 14 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game — finished with 11 points.
Liberty’s girls overcame a five-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Lee’s Summit North 44-41 in its quarterfinal at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
The Jays, who are in their fourth state tournament and first since 2016, kept LS North scoreless during the game’s final 3 minutes and 40 seconds and advanced behind 21 points from senior forward Kayel Newland.
“She’s a big-time kid,” Liberty girls coach Chad Fleming said. “We’re fortunate she’s on our team.”
The Jays’ boys, meanwhile, rode a 28-point effort from senior guard Jalen Lewis to a 52-46 victory against Rockhurst in the quarterfinals. Liberty, which won the Class 4A championship in 2001, is headed to state for the first time since 2002.
“Jalen rose up to the situation and played very, very well,” longtime Jays coach Roger Stirtz said of Lewis, a 5-9 senior guard who averages 19 points a game.
Stirtz will need Lewis to do the same against Webster Groves, which features two NCAA Division I prospects in senior point guard Courtney Ramey (unsigned after de-committing from Louisville) and 6-7 forward Carte’Are Gordon (St. Louis University).
Webster Groves routed Lee’s Summit West 70-35 in last year’s final.
“Obviously, it’s a tremendous challenge,” Stirtz said. “Everyone in our program is going to have to be at their best. But I told these guys before I would go to battle with them over anyone. We’re going to give it our best shot.”
Kearney’s boys fell short of making it to state, losing to a physical Raytown South team 61-47 in its quarterfinal, but coach Kirk Stegeman and most of his players will still be there to cheer on the girls — and maybe the Blue Jays, too.
“We’re going to go down there and watch them,” Stegeman said. “They’ve been close the last couple of years and now it’s their turn to make a run.”