Leonard Taylor stood at the foul line waiting to shoot two. There were 30 seconds left and his Springfield Wildcats trailed by one point.
“Never nervous, never nervous,” he said. “I love pressure, love pressure.”
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Taylor made both free throws for a one-point lead. But there was still the matter of stopping high-scoring Sidney junior Andre Gordon. Everyone in the packed and raucous gym at Centerville High School knew was going to take the final shot.
Sidney coach John Willoughby put the ball in his star’s hands after a timeout with 11 seconds left. Gordon was guarded by Raheim Moss then Taylor in a double-team. Gordon managed to get to the lane on the right side. He dribbled through traffic and put up an off-balance, fade-away shot over Taylor from about 10 feet at the left side of the lane. The shot was short and Sam Towns grabbed the rebound.
“We contested it and were just praying it doesn’t go in,” Springfield senior Michael Wallace said.
The horn sounded and Springfield celebrated a 63-62 Division I sectional final victory Friday night and a fourth straight trip to the district finals. The Wildcats (20-4) will face Cincinnati Elder (14-11), a No. 12 seed in the Cincinnati sectional, Saturday at UD Arena.
“It gets real from sectional on,” Springfield coach Isaiah Carson said. “Nobody wants to go home. There probably isn’t a better player in the area than Andre Gordon, and you know he isn’t going down without a fight.”
Carson knows that feeling well. This was the third sectional final in four years at Centerville that the Wildcats have come from behind to win. Four years ago they did it against Lebanon. Last year it was in overtime against Xenia.
This time against eighth-seeded Sidney (18-7) the second-seeded Wildcats trailed most of the game and went to the fourth quarter down 53-48.
“We came out for the fourth quarter with a mindset that we have to get stops,” said Moss, who led the Wildcats with 18 points. “It’s a great team. We just executed and got the dub.”
The Wildcats have been known as a second-half team this season. This time they were more of a fourth-quarter team. The defense was flying around, double-teaming, deflecting passes and challenging shots.
“Urgency finally kicked in,” Carson said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of executing earlier. We were able to come away with it tonight, and I’ll take it.”
The Wildcats focused on stopping Gordon with a variety of defenses, including a box-and-one at times. Gordon scored 15 points, but he got a lot of help from teammate Ratez Roberts, another junior, with 19 points and Devan Rogers with 10.
With a week to prepare for Elder, what will practice be like?
“Getting better … getting better … urgency,” Carson said. “Let’s put together a full game. That’s what it’s all about this week.”
Wallace didn’t play much as a freshman and sophomore, but he was a key player last year when the Wildcats won their second district title in three years. He scored 13 points against Sidney and threw to perfect alley-oop passes to Moss to energize his team and fans in the second half. He’s ready to have good practices and be ready for Elder.
“We’ve got to come out strong, not flat,” he said.
But if it’s close, Taylor won’t be nervous.
Carroll 38, Spg. Shawnee 33: Trailing by six points midway through the final quarter, Matt Cogan hit a pair of 3-pointers to pull the Patriots even as the Greater Catholic League Co-Ed North rep won a boys D-II sectional final at Springfield. Carroll’s Eli Ramsey had 17 points.
Carroll (16-9) will take a five-game win streak into a D-II district final against the Aiken/Hughes winner on Thursday at UD Arena. Shawnee (16-9) had a four-game win streak snapped.
Emmanuel Christian 61, Tri-Village 48: Junior Adonis Davis had 16 points, freshman Jason Channels 15 and Fred Shropshire 14 as the Lions won their first boys D-IV sectional title at Troy. Emmanuel (10-14) will play Russia (15-8) in a D-IV district final at UD Arena on Friday.