Moeller rematch next as Springfield dodges Elder in district final

Michael Wallace waited until the end to become a difference-maker. That’s just fine with the streaking Springfield Wildcats boys basketball team.

“Every time we get in those close moments, that’s what I do,” Wallace said after his clutch play in the final seconds secured a 51-45 knockout of Cincinnati Elder in a district championship at the University of Dayton Arena late Saturday night. “I like the clutch moments.”

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The win matches Springfield (21-4) against Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (23-3) in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Wayne (24-1) will play Cincinnati Princeton (23-3) in the other semi at 8.

The winners return to the Cintas Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday with a regional championship and spot in next week’s state final four in Columbus at stake.

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Moeller defeated host Springfield 56-39 on Feb. 3 in the regular season.

This was the last of four D-I district finals at UD. Two last-second free throws were the difference in Princeton's 53-51 dodging of Greater Miami Conference rival Lakota East. Moeller shut down Fairmont 65-50 and Wayne throttled Oak Hills, another GMC rep, 68-54.

Wallace, a senior guard, hit two layups in the final 10 seconds and topped that with two steals as Springfield withstood a strong upset challenge by Elder.

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Springfield led throughout but couldn’t reignite its offense with RaHeim Moss and Leonard Taylor out extended minutes due to excessive personal fouls. That enabled Elder, down as much as 12 points midway through the first period, to grind back into contention.

“We hopped on them early on,” Wallace said, “then got sluggish in the middle.”

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Taylor’s layup pushed Springfield’s lead to 46-41 with 2:15 left. Elder’s Trevor Estep responded with a 3-pointer and layup to cut the margin to 46-45. Sam Towns’ free throw bumped the Wildcats’ advantage to two, then Wallace took over.

His layup put Springfield up by four with 10 seconds left. Then he made a steal and layup with 4.2 ticks left. That was enough time for him to make one last steal to almost single-handily take down Elder in the final seconds.

“Michael deserved this moment,” Wildcats coach Isaiah Carson said. “I’m not surprised by it. He’s worked his butt off for this program. Now he’s a senior, he’s the guy and he came through.”

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Wallace led Springfield with 13 points in the defensive struggle. Towns and RaHeim Moss each added nine points. Taylor added eight points and seven rebounds in limited minutes. The Wildcats essentially shot down Elder with eight 3-pointers: two each by Towns, Wallace, Taylor and Larry Stephens.

Zach Harp led Elder (14-12) with 20 points and Brett Marsh added 12.

This marks the fourth straight season Springfield has played for a district title and has won three. The only loss was to Moeller in 2016. The Wildcats defeated the Crusaders in a 2015 regional semifinal.

“We look forward to the matchup,” Carson said. “It’s going to be a good one and we can’t wait.”

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