Springfield falls in another D-I regional: “We didn’t get the job done”

So crucial to the Springfield boys basketball success the last three seasons, Wildcats senior Ra’Heim Moss found himself in unfamiliar territory in the closing minute of the most important game: on the bench with five personal fouls.

“It’s hard to believe,” admitted Moss following a season- and career-ending 67-63 setback to nemesis Centerville in a boys high school basketball Division I regional semifinal at Xavier University’s Cintas Center on Wednesday night.

“It hit me a little bit, but it hasn’t hit me all the way. I hurt. It’s bittersweet we didn’t get the job done.”

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It was the fourth time in the last five seasons Springfield ventured this deep into the postseason. Like all those other times, the Wildcats endured a long bus ride back home wondering what might have been.

Instead, it’s Centerville (22-5) that will play defending D-I state champ and unbeaten Cincinnati Moeller (26-0) in Saturday’s 7 p.m. regional final at the Cintas. That winner advances to next week’s state final four at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center. Moeller bopped Lakota East 47-33 in the opener on Wednesday.

It was the third straight season Springfield was knocked out in a D-I regional semi. Moeller eliminated Springfield last season and another Greater Catholic League South team, Cincinnati LaSalle, bumped Springfield in 2017.

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Springfield lost to eventual state champ Wayne in the 2015 D-I regional final. Springfield eliminated Moeller in a regional semi that season.

It also was the third time Centerville and Springfield (17-10) played after splitting two regular-season games, each losing at home.

Senior David Sanford led the Wildcats with 20 points. Moss concluded his outstanding career with 16 points and four assists.

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A double-digit early deficit, missed free throws in the closing minutes and a lack of timely rebounds was Springfield’s undoing. So was 6-foot-9 junior Centerville center Mo Njie. Already lighting up the recruiting radar, he went for 14 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks. He altered just as many other shots.

“He came on strong,” Springfield coach Isaiah Carson said. “We kept attacking and going at him and he did a great job. What can you do?”

The Wildcats could have done a better job at converting free throws. Sanford hit 8 of 9, but Springfield was just 12 of 21 at the line, many of those misses the front ends of bonus opportunities in the final minutes.

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Centerville took the lead for good in the second quarter. Springfield closed to within two early in the fourth on Sanford’s 3-pointer and played catch-up until the bitter final end, Njie still a dominant inside presence.

“He’s getting a little better,” Elks coach Brook Cupps, formerly at Graham, said of his junior center. “The kid works his butt off. I’m thankful other people get to see it in this setting. He’s a huge part of what we do and we’re thankful he’s on our side.”

Ray Cole added nine points and Larry Stephens eight for the Wildcats. Springfield graduates just two players: Sanford and Moss.

“They were very steady, showed up every day and were very dependable,” Carson said of Sanford and Moss. “I thank those guys. They carried on the Springfield torch. Now it’s on some other guys to step up and continue this.”

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