Nine years after its last district crown, Springfield’s boys are back in the regional
By Joe Scalzo
In March of 2003, Eric Fender was a senior guard for Poland’s regional finalist basketball team. Ryan Stacy and Tommy Mastran were Springfield third-graders cheering for the first Tiger team to win a district title in 33 years.
A year after falling to LeBron James and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the state semifinals, the Bulldogs fell one step short of state in 2003, losing to Canton South in the Division II regional championship game.
Three days earlier, Springfield — led by district player of the year Dan Schuler — lost to Bedford Chanel, 57-47, in a Division III regional semifinal.
“I remember going to the Canton Fieldhouse and playing around with my friends but I don’t remember watching the game,” Stacy said, smiling.
Mastran, meanwhile, watched the highlights on the local news and thought, “I really want to do that.”
Nine years later, Fender and the Tigers will both make their first return trips to Canton where they will meet Chanel (21-3) in Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal at the Canton Fieldhouse.
“It’s still special,” said Fender, who is 44-21 in four years at Springfield. “I tell one of my assistant coaches all the time, ‘I wish I could go out there and play.’
“Some of these guys don’t realize, you only get one shot at it. You only get one senior year and one opportunity to go out and do this.”
After going 14-7 last season, the Tigers entered this winter with a strong nucleus and a challenging December schedule that included five of the first six games on the road.
“We knew if we could get through December, we’d figure out how good we’d be,” said Fender. “I think we won 10 of our first 11 and I think we knew we had an opportunity to do something special.”
Stacy said the team’s 68-66 win at South Range — in just the second game — gave the Tigers a key confidence boost.
“We knew they were going to be our hardest team to beat [in the conference] and we wanted to beat them bad after what they did to us in football season,” said Stacy, referring to a 35-21 loss in the fall. “When we beat them there, that’s when we came together closer as a team.”
Springfield finished the regular season 18-2 — its losses were the opener against Brookfield and a home game to South Range — and captured the Inter Tri-County League Tier One title before defeating Waterloo, South Range and St. Thomas Aquinas in the tournament.
Now the Tigers will face their toughest test in Chanel, which is ranked seventh in the state.
“We’re in the same situation we were with St. Thomas Aquinas,” said Fender. “They throw a lot of ball pressure at you and look to force you into turnovers.
“If we do the things we know how to do, we can definitely make it a game. And if we play smart, we can hopefully come out with a win.”
The past 12 months have been tremendous for the Tigers, who made the Division V playoffs in football and lost in the Division IV state championship game in baseball.
Add in their first district basketball championship in nearly a decade and it’s a safe bet there’s some elementary school athletes who have been watching and thinking, “We want to do that someday.”
“It feels real good,” said Mastran. “We’re doing something that hasn’t been done in a long time.
“We’re just trying to leave a good mark for us seniors and a good name for Springfield.”