The Tigers overcame a 15-point deficit to eliminate the Knights.
SALEM -- Nothing was going right for the Springfield High boys basketball team.
Shots weren't falling, turnovers were mounting and an early exit from the Division III district tournament was imminent.
The Tigers turned the ball over 11 times in the first half against St. Thomas' full-court pressure and found themselves in a 15-point hole, trailing 40-25 with 7:08 remaining in the third quarter.
"I just told them to keep their composure and execute the offense," said Springfield coach Grant Spaite. "Once we started knocking down some shots, we were in business."
The Tigers' patience paid huge dividends in the second half.
Outscoring the Knights 34-17 the rest of the way, Springfield knocked off the defending district champions 59-57 Tuesday night at Salem High.
"In the first half we just didn't execute," said Spaite. "In the third quarter we started to take our time, set some screens and slow things down to our pace.
"On defense, we got hands in their shooters' faces, limited their second shot opportunities and got a little more physical."
A quick start
St. Thomas used its up-tempo game to burst out to a 20-9 advantage early in the second quarter. The Knights shot better than 50 percent in the first half and limited Springfield's shot attempts by forcing 11 turnovers.
From that 15-point deficit early in the third quarter, the Tigers outscored St. Thomas 17-7 to get within 45-42 on two Aaron Wood free throws at the 5:37 mark of the fourth quarter.
Zach DeJane's putback trimmed the lead to 48-47 with 3:44 to go. That's when foul trouble came back to haunt St. Thomas.
Luke Summers canned a pair of free throws to give Springfield a 49-48 advantage, its first lead since 4-2. The Tigers never trailed again.
Springfield built a 57-50 lead, but St. Thomas cut it to 58-57 on a free throw with 17 seconds to go. Jeremy Russell sealed the win with a free throw with 13 seconds remaining.
"We lost this game on defense," said St. Thomas coach Dave Waseity. "We're not a good post defensive team to begin with, but their big guys hurt us inside and we got into foul trouble. They hit a bunch of free throws during their run.
"We got down and started forcing things at the end. We had opportunities to put them away, but we took ourselves out the game."
Springfield advances on to the district semifinals March 1.
United 68, South Range 64
Despite United's 75-53 victory over South Range last Friday night to end the regular season, Golden Eagles coach Rob Clumen wouldn't let his team get complacent.
"I told them that South Range would come in here tonight ready to play, especially after our big win Friday," said Clumen. "I knew we had to be ready to play if we wanted to stay in the tournament."
Clumen was right.
South Range trimmed the Golden Eagles seven-point lead to three with 11 seconds to play.
"South Range played hard until the very end," said Clumen. "We turned the ball over against their pressure at the end and they made a run. Luckily, we made a couple free throws down the stretch to move on.
"We made some mistakes and it wasn't pretty, but in the tournament the important thing is that we're still alive."
United used a balanced offensive attack, putting four players in double figures. Brian Zehentbauer led the way with 16 points. Jake Roelen and Bubba Taylor added 14 each and Dan Shaffer added 12.
The Golden Eagles' largest lead was 65-58 with 1:38 remaining. But South Range forced several turnovers and took advantage with a 4-0 run, trimming the deficit to 65-62.
United hit 3-of-5 free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the win and advance to a sectional final contest against second-seeded Rootstown Friday at 6 p.m.