Springfield’s breakthrough season ends in sectional finals

Wildcats fall to Centerville 44-30

TROY — Terrence Toliver didn’t want to leave Troy High School on Saturday without reminding his young Springfield girls basketball team what time to be at practice Monday. But he didn’t have to.

The Wildcats’ season ended in a 44-30 Division I sectional final loss to Centerville. The Elks will play in a district final for the fourth straight year next Saturday at Cincinnati Princeton. The Wildcats get some extra time off to reflect on this season and get ready to start work on the next one.

In Toliver’s first season with four sophomore starters and one junior starter, and just one senior, the Wildcats finished 13-11, won the most games since the 2008 merger of North and South and won a tournament game for the first time since 2018. And they came into Saturday’s game confident because they beat Centerville on Jan. 3.

“We’re turning the corner a lot faster than we thought,” Toliver said. “We just got to build off this season and build on the momentum, and our young kids got to get better.”

The 12th-seeded Wildcats upset No. 3 Bellbrook on Wednesday and entered Saturday against the No. 8 Elks on a four-game winning streak that guaranteed them a winning record. The Wildcats are talented, but it took more than that. Toliver said the players believed in the culture he established and they believed in one another. Those were important steps, but Toliver said another thing was more important to lay the foundation.

“The relationships that we have with our girls mattered the most,” he said. “Because that allows me to coach them hard because I do have a personal relationship with all the kids.”

Toliver coached hard from the bench Saturday, but youth against an unusual defense caused offensive struggles. Centerville, always a man-to-man team under head coach Adam Priefer, used a triangle-and-two defense to knock off No. 5 seed Sidney on Wednesday.

Priefer took a similar approach Saturday by instructing his guards to stick close to Springfield’s Milly Portis and Day’Veonna Boynton. The others sagged and dared others to shoot. The Wildcats practiced for it, but they were unable to solve the defense enough to keep the score close. The Elks also kept the Wildcats off the offensive boards and limited their transition scoring opportunities.

“To survive and advance, sometimes you got to do things differently to move on,” Toliver said. “You play the percentages. And the other three girls that they’re not paying attention to, you let them take open shots. And if they’re not making shots, then the game plan was working.”

The Elks (15-9) stretched a low-scoring start into a 20-11 halftime lead. By then the Wildcats’ Boynton, K’leighonna Grable and sub Jaela Johnson had three fouls. And Tionna Stone had two. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Centerville made only 5 of 16 free throws in the half.

But the Wildcats never made a second-half run as Centerville’s defense continued to play a frustrating role.

Still, the Wildcats made it deeper in the tournament than they were supposed to. Toliver was happy to see youth and middle school players in the stands and a good crowd from the community. That and the regular-season victories over Wayne and Centerville were important moments for building the program.

“That was gigantic for our program,” Toliver said of those season-defining victories. “It let them know that they can believe and that they can win.”

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