The defending Inter-County League champions are still unbeaten in league play.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
MINERAL RIDGE -- Before this season began, someone in New Middletown told Springfield coach Jeff Brink that his team would be lucky to win five games this season.
"It was insulting," Brink said.
And boy, was it wrong.
After going 22-1 last season and losing three all-state players to graduation, the Tigers are once again the Inter-County League's dominant team.
They proved it Friday night.
Leading the way: Springfield's Dan Schuler had 20 points, 16 rebounds and four assists as Springfield (10-1, 6-0) handed Mineral Ridge its first league loss, 60-50 at Mineral Ridge High School.
"A lot of people said this was a rebuilding year," Schuler said. "But our coach [Brink] has built us up and has us playing at the same level of intensity year after year.
"We have a lot of high expectations."
After playing even for much of the first half, Springfield went on an 11-0 run midway through the second quarter to turn a 17-16 lead into a 28-16 advantage. The Rams (9-2, 5-1) missed eight straight shots during the run and found themselves in their first big hole of the night.
"We came out strong and built a big lead in the first half, but we made a lot of mistakes in the second half," Schuler said.
Mineral Ridge went on an 8-0 run early in the third quarter to cut its deficit to 32-26, and Kevin Garland hit a 3-pointer minutes later to make it 34-31 with 40 seconds left.
But Springfield senior Pat Birch hit a 3-pointer just before the third quarter buzzer to give the Tigers a 37-31 lead -- and some much-needed momentum.
Fourth period run: Springfield opened the fourth with a 10-3 run, including a seven-point swing thanks to a three-point play by Schuler and a technical on the Rams' bench. Mineral Ridge hit five 3s in the quarter, but never got closer than seven points.
The Tigers out-rebounded the Rams 46-28, including a 23-10 edge in the first half.
"We dominated the glass," Brink said. "We knew they were going to make shots so we wanted them to shoot contested shots and limit them to one shot."
Mineral Ridge relied heavily on its perimeter game, making nine 3-pointers.
"We would just come down and get one shot," Mineral Ridge coach Del Ruiter said. "We've got some shooters, but the shots just weren't falling tonight."
Mineral Ridge hit 19 of 57 (33 percent) and was just 2-for-3 at the foul line. Springfield was 21 of 52 from the field (40 percent) and 11 of 23 (48 percent) from the line.
"We struggled at times," Brink said of the Tigers' foul shooting woes. "But when it's crunch time, [Dave] Rispinto, Birch and Schuler answered the call."
Birch finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Rispinto added 16 points and James Mash grabbed nine rebounds.
Rams top scorer: Malachi Hall had a solid game for the Rams with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Garland scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Chris Anderson added 11 points and four steals.
"We'll be back," Ruiter said. "We're not going to lay down and die. South Range, Mineral Ridge and Springfield are the top teams in the league and mark my words, one of those teams will win it."