Emotional second half fuels Springfield to regional
In his head, Eoghan Bees has imagined it so many times.
But on Friday night, at the Salem High gymnasium, he had to pull it off in front of thousands of fans in Springfield’s Division III district championship game against St. Thomas Aquinas.
As his team rallied from a double-digit deficit just six minutes earlier, Bees stole a pass at midcourt, drove towards the hoop, converted a contested lay up and was fouled. Before completing the three-point play, Bees pumped his fists and let out a scream — a dream come true.
The successful sequence gave Springfield its first lead at the 6:01 mark of the third and launched the Tigers to a 51-47 win for their fifth district championship and first since 2003.
“That’s a play I’ve seen go through my mind a thousand times,” Bees said. “Just to see that ball go through was just perfect.”
Springfield shot just 3-of-14 from the field in the first quarter and trailed 14-6. In the fourth, though, it went 6-of-9 from the field and out-scored the Knights 21-13.
“There was no difference aside from just making some shots,” coach Eric Fender said. “We tell the kids every game to not give up until the last buzzer sounds. We battled back; it’s a game of runs. They went on an early one and we dug back out of it and kept playing until the final buzzer.”
St. Thomas forced four Tiger turnovers early in the first quarter and led by as many as 10. Conner Duplin had a game-high 26 points with 10 coming in the first eight minutes.
“Honestly, they came out and punched us in the mouth,” Bees said. “They beat us to every ball and they outplayed us in the first half.”
Ron Rogers hit the Tigers’ first 3-pointer late in the second quarter after the team missed their first eight attempts. Preceding Bees’ go-ahead hoop and harm, he knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two.
“As soon as I saw one go down, I was like ‘All right, I know I can hit them,’” Bees said.
Rogers added, “once we hit one shot we were able to keep going and feed off of that.”
Bees and Rogers had 21 and 15 points, respectively.
“Eoghan has been consistent for us all year, but this was the best shooting game that he’s had,” Fender said. “You have to have confidence to step up with your shot because that’s what got us here.”
Hot hands and a tricky zone defense brought the Tigers back, but what ultimately got them the win was a special intangible.
“Emotion,” Bees said. “We just had to get the emotion out and come out playing with fire. Our coaches were on us and told us to get some fire in the game.
“When you play hard good things are going to happen.”
Calling it a tale of two halves is an understatement.
“They just owned the second half,” said Knights coach Joe Harold. “They did everything better on both ends of the floor than we did.”
Springfield (21-2) trailed by 11 with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter, but went on a 13-0 run for over four minutes in the fourth.
A Duplin 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining brought St. Thomas back to one, but three Bees’ free-throws in the final 17 seconds secured the outcome.
St. Thomas, the No. 9 seed, started the season at 3-13 and finished 10-14.