By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NEW MIDDLETOWN -- Satisfying a passionate basketball community isn't easy.
Consider coach Jeff Brink and his Springfield High boys basketball team, which rid the program and its fans of 33 painful years by winning its first district championship since 1969.
When the Tigers play Wednesday in the Division III regional semifinals against Bedford Chanel in Canton, they won't have that same pressure weighing on them.
"No matter how many games we won or what we did, if we didn't get out of Salem, it was a disappointment [to others]," said Brink, whose team defeated St. Thomas Aquinas 53-38 Friday, one year after the Tigers lost in the district semis to South Range.
"With my kids last year, we had one of the greatest seasons we've had, and people looked down on us like it was a bad year," he said.
No one can question the Tigers (22-1) anymore. Not after they rolled into the regional by dominating the field at Salem, which included opponents South Range, Lisbon and St. Thomas.
It's difficult to pinpoint one reason for Springfield's ride to the regional.
Senior leadership? Balance? Depth? Defense? Big-game experience? The Tigers have them all.
"We have so many seniors [eight]," Brink said. "You look down through the years in any sport in high school, you win with seniors."
Springfield's starting five of Dan Schuler (6-foot-5), David Rispinto (6-1), Jeff Mershimer (6-6), Henrik Thomsen (6-8) and Jonathan Vivo (5-8) are all seniors.
"The two guys who were first-team Northeast Ohio, Dan Schuler and David Rispinto, whenever we need a big play, they get it done," Brink said.
"I think they are the two best players in Northeast Ohio," Brink added. "When you have those two on the floor, there's a lot of things we can do."
Although Schuler and Rispinto, who haven't lost an Inter-County League game in their careers, are Springfield's steadying factors, they don't dominate the scoring.
Rispinto led the team in the regular season with 13 points per game, while Schuler followed with 11. The balance is reflected in the similar numbers of teammates Thomsen (10 ppg), Mershimer (9) and Vivo (7.5).
"It's just a different guy every night," Brink said. "That's why I think our team is so difficult to defend."
What makes it even more difficult is the effectiveness of the Tigers' bench, which includes seniors Jeff Decenso, Rick Weimer and Paul Savaet and sophomore Aaron Wood.
"We're very versatile, and depth has been a huge factor," Brink said. "With the depth we have, it gives us a lot of flexibility."
Riding the momentum
If doubt remained through Springfield's first 19 games, it was negated in the regular-season finale. The Tigers went into Poland and knocked off the previously-unbeaten Bulldogs.
That was a springboard into the tournament, Brink said.
"Our kids have been through so many big games over the last three, four years," Brink said. "Most of these guys have played in those types of atmospheres."
It won't be any different Wednesday at 8 p.m. when the Memorial Fieldhouse in Canton will be buzzing.
"We have to get back to work," Schuler said after the district championship, "and keep this thing going."