Springfield girls win first tournament game since 2018

TROY — Since North and South merged in 2008 the Springfield girls basketball team has had little to celebrate. So when they got the chance Wednesday night no one held back.

Players jumped up and down in the middle of the floor and hugged each other. First-year head coach Terrence Toliver even jumped and pumped his arms, too. And why not.

The 12th-seeded Wildcats didn’t win a trophy, but it felt like it. They had just defeated No. 3 Bellbrook 57-55 in overtime to win their first tournament game since 2018. And now at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the Wildcats will play No. 8 Centerville and appear in a Division I sectional final for the first time since the merger. The Wildcats split with the Elks this season, winning the second meeting 61-55 on Jan. 3. One more win and the Wildcats will play in a district final and officially be the story of the 2024 tournament.

Springfield (13-10) already had its most victories since the merger. The Wildcats start four sophomores and have only one senior on the roster. Sophomores Milly Portis scored 18, K’leighonna Grable scored 12 and Day’Veonna Boynton scored 10. Young or not, the Wildcats played with purpose and found a way to win after Grable and sophomore point guard Jada Crockran fouled out.

“Every day at practice he’s pushing us, telling us, don’t give up,” Portis said. “We have people that have been counting us out. We just got to keep on going, block them out and show them what we can do.”

The Wildcats weren’t expected to win, but the opportunity to do so increased when Bellbrook (16-8) got the worst possible break in Saturday’s first-round win against Miamisburg. Leading scorer and three-time Southwestern Buckeye League player of the year Taylor Scohy sprained the MCL in her left knee and was lost for the season.

Still, the Golden Eagles had chances. Turnovers, missed layups and too many fouls cost them late in regulation and overtime.

Springfield, which led by as many as 10 in the first half, started slowly in the third quarter. Bellbrook quickly turned a 29-23 deficit into a 37-34 lead. The Wildcats rallied late in the quarter with a 9-3 run to take a 43-40 lead into the fourth quarter.

Free throws were a constant factor. The Wildcats made 15 of 26 and the Golden Eagles made 13 of 19. And the Wildcats could have won in regulation if not for making only 1 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter. But they one they made was enough to get to overtime. Trailing 48-47, Bellbrook’s Alayna Meyer drove to the basket and passed to Emmie Sears. Grable fouled out stopping Sears from scoring. With 14 seconds left Sears made one of two free throws to tie the score. Springfield failed to score and went to overtime.

“You know you’re going to make mistakes and teams are going to make their run,” Toliver said. “It’s just all about believing in yourself, believing in the system and being a little bit more resilient when the games are bigger and just playing together and trying to maintain the level of focus.”

Toliver said he thought his team might struggle in overtime without Grable’s 6-foot-3 presence. But they were able to spread the floor, make Bellbrook chase them and make enough free throws. Their composure showed as they scored the first five points of overtime.

But it wasn’t over. Lauren Fabrick scored off a steal by Sears and Meyer got open off a screen for a tying 3-pointer. Springfield answered with a basket from Portis and enough free throws ( 5 of 10 in the quarter) and defensive stops to end Bellbrook’s season much sooner than it expected. Without Scohy’s 17 points a game to count on, Fabrick scored 19 points and Meyer scored 12 to lead Bellbrook.

On Bellbrook’s final shot in the final seconds, the rebound appropriately came to Boynton. She has almost 300 rebounds, which is good enough for the school record, with two more seasons to play.

This young group of Wildcats, it seems, might have more on-court celebrations in its future.

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