By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
SALEM -- This time, LeBron James isn't waiting in the district championship game.
Years of frustration and narrow misses can end Friday night for the Springfield High boys basketball team when it plays for a Division III district title.
The Tigers had that opportunity two seasons ago. More than 6,000 fans jammed Beeghly Center in anticipation of Springfield's district championship showdown with Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and superstar James.
But Springfield's season ended there.
High hopes were dashed last season when South Range's buzzer-beater sent the Tigers home in the district semifinals.
"We've had some bad breaks," said Springfield coach Jeff Brink, after his team defeated Lisbon 63-37 Tuesday in the district semifinals at Salem High.
"Injuries, illnesses, balls bouncing off feet, bad calls, Hail Mary's ... St. Vincent-St. Mary happens to be in our bracket," Brink painfully listed.
In fact, Springfield hasn't won a district title since the late 1960s, Brink estimated.
"We've just had some bad luck and some breaks where we just didn't get it done and didn't play well enough to win," he said.
The drought can end Friday. Standing in top-seeded Springfield's way is second-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas, the defending district champion. The teams will meet at 7:30 p.m. at Salem High.
"You always want to play in the big game. You want to get to that championship game," Brink said. "St. Thomas has had a great season. They've played great competition. We're going to have to play good basketball to beat them."
St. Thomas Aquinas (15-7) advanced to the title game by defeating Crestview 60-45 Monday. The Knights will bring an up-tempo style into Friday's game.
"We've scrimmaged some teams in the off-season that are similar to St. Thomas," Brink said. "You have to match up with the speed and quickness. It's a lot different from what you see in our league.
"I think we're prepared," Brink added. "We know that, down the road, you're going to have to beat those kind of teams in the tournament."
Taking care of business
Springfield (21-1) didn't have any trouble with fourth-seeded Lisbon (14-8).
Although the Blue Devils scored the final eight points of the first half to trail 32-21 at halftime, they were held to just 16 points in the second half. Junior Lucian Smith led them with 21 points.
"It's one of those games you have to take seriously," Brink said. "Coming off a game with Poland, coming off a game with league rival South Range and with a championship game looming on the horizon, it would have been very easy to overlook Lisbon."
Senior Dave Rispinto certainly didn't. He led the Tigers with 20 points, while Henrik Thomsen, a 6-foot-8 senior from Denmark, added 14 points. Senior Dan Schuler had just six points but grabbed 12 rebounds for the Tigers.
"Last year was such a disappointing loss, in the same part of the tournament," said Rispinto, recalling the district semifinal exodus to South Range.
"It's relief [to move on] because we were favored," he added. "Now the pressure's all off. Now we have to come out and play a good game against a good team."