- By Greg Billing Contributing Writer
The Springfield Wildcats girls basketball team scored a pair of milestone victories this season – one in the Greater Western Ohio Conference and one in the Division I sectional tournament.
Both were a long time coming. And the Wildcats aren’t planning on waiting so long again.
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No. 10-seeded Springfield knocked off No. 11 Troy for the second time this season, this one a 52-41 victory in the first round of the sectional tournament Saturday at Vandalia Butler’s Student Activity Center. The tournament win was the first for Springfield since North and South merged after the 2008 season.
North laid claim to the last tournament win for a Springfield team (North or South) when the Panthers won three games during a run to the district finals in 2004.
“That was one of the goals we had at the beginning of the season, to win a GWOC game and win a tournament game,” Springfield coach Darris Gattis said. “We’ve accomplished a lot, but as a coach I feel we can do more. We really don’t want to say we’re rebuilding. We’ve got good athletes. We just need to learn how to win basketball games.”
The took a big step Saturday.
Senior Naomi Hookfin scored nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, five coming on free throws in the final 1:51 of the game. She scored seven straight points for Springfield – five on free throws and two more on a layup after a steal – in a one-minute span.
“It was pressure but I just took a deep breath and do what I had to do. Just recall what I do in practice,” Hookfin said. “My mind is blank. I’m focusing on the ball and the rim and getting it in the hole. That’s it.”
When Troy (12-11) knocked down a 3-pointer to take a 38-37 lead with 4:23 to play, freshman Mickayla Perdue answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Senior Caralyssa Byrd then scored off a steal for the 42-38 lead with 3:46 to go.
Springfield (11-12) ran its ball-control offense to drain the clock before Hookfin mounted her personal scoring run.
“When we got the lead I knew we had it,” Byrd said, crediting Gattis’ tough practices for putting the Wildcats back in the postseason win column. “We feel we’re better, stronger, faster. We’ve got the skills now.”
Earlier this season Springfield snapped a 79-game GWOC divisional losing streak with a 60-56 win against Miamisburg. Prior to that, the Wildcats last victory game against Wayne on Dec. 16, 2009.
“I’m really proud of these girls. These seniors have come a long way,” Gattis said. “They took a lot from me the first two years to put the discipline in and try to change the culture with the kids, the parents, the community to see the importance of girls basketball and what it can open up for these girls. I’m tough on the girls but it’s going to get the results we need.”
Springfield led the majority of the game, but even when a seven-point lead was erased with a tie late in the third quarter the Wildcats didn’t wilt. That’s part of the confidence Gattis has instilled.
Asked when she knew the Wildcats were going to win, Hookfin answered with a confident-not-cocky response of: “From the beginning, right when we came out of the locker room. I had faith in my team we would deliver and get this win for Springfield.”
Springfield advances to play No. 4 Wayne (13-9) 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Troy High School. Wayne swept the regular season series 80-46 and 53-37.
“The program has been down for so long. We don’t want to make any excuses as to why we lose,” Gattis said. “We want to win. We want to beat the Beavercreeks, Centervilles and Waynes. So that’s what we want. That’s the position we want to be in. We want to play Wayne and fight hard and do the best we can.”
Springfield’s seniors played key roles in addition to Byrd and Hookfin. Julona Martin helped to slow down Troy’s Tia Bass (16 points) in the paint. Jasmine Williams gave the Wildcats ball handling depth.
As for Perdue, a freshman averaging 22 points per game for second best in the GWOC, she persevered from flu symptoms the past three days. She finished with a game-high 19 points, including seven in the fourth quarter.
“Our freshmen have helped the team out a lot and we just surround them and do what we have to do,” Hookfin said. “This feels great because we haven’t done it in I don’t know how long. It feels great to go out my senior season with a tournament win.”