If it can’t be Springfield representing the Greater Western Ohio Conference at the state tournament, then Wildcats senior Dae’Shawn Jackson considers the Wayne Warriors a suitable alternative.
Springfield — which lost to Wayne twice by double digits during the regular season — couldn’t hold an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead before falling 67-60 in the Division I regional championship Saturday.
“If anybody we lose to, I’m glad it’s them,” Jackson said, “because they’re a great basketball program and I have all the respect for them.”
For all but the final six minutes, Springfield was better, at least on the scoreboard.
The Wildcats led 52-44 with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter for their largest lead of the game.
Wayne chipped away, then stormed ahead with a 12-0 run starting with 6:58 remaining. Leonard Taylor’s 3-pointer, his third of the game, ended the run with 3:32 left and the Wildcats down 58-56. The Warriors never led by more than five until adding the final points with 17.2 seconds left.
“We got nothing to be ashamed of,” Springfield coach Isaiah Carson said. “We fought and fought and fought. We just came up short. That’s a very good basketball team we played. This program has come a long way and we’re proud of our kids.”
Jackson led the Wildcats with 17 points and sophomore Danny Davis added 16. Junior Darius Harper scored 12 points, had eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Xeyrius Williams led Wayne with 20 points.
The Warriors won both games during the regular season, 65-37 on Jan. 9 and 77-57 on Feb. 10.
It looked like it could be much of the same after the Warriors sprinted to a 7-0 lead. But the Wildcats clawed their way back with defense and transition offense.
Springfield had more steals than Wayne (11-5), had fewer turnovers (11-16) and blocked more shots (7-3). But the Wildcats were outrebounded 46-33 and struggled from the free-throw line, going 15-27.
“We struggled all season with those,” Carson said. “That’s something our guys gotta understand going forward. We gotta have those.”
Wayne had 15 offensive rebounds and turned them into 19 second-chance points, compared to Springfield’s five points.
Springfield was looking for its first trip to state as a consolidated school since 1950. North played in Columbus in 1997 and 1995. South never advanced past regional, including a 2004 regional final loss to eventual state champ Hamilton in 2004.
“It feels good to be up here, I’m not gonna lie,” Jackson said. “We set the bar high. I’m proud of the seniors for sticking it out and staying together. Next year I don’t see why they can’t go to state.”