By Steve wilaj
If high school basketball games were decided in only 24 minutes of play, Springfield would be moving on. Unfortunately for the Tigers, games are 32 minutes long — and they failed to show up for eight of them.
For three quarters, Springfield and Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas played almost even basketball in Tuesday’s Division III district semifinal at Salem High School. But in what eventually led to a 50-42 Knights victory, Aquinas outscored the Tigers 13-2 in the second quarter.
“We got lackadaisical with things,” Tigers coach Eric Fender said. “We gave them a lot of second- and third-chance opportunities, which is one of the things we tried to focus on in practice. Plus, the ball just didn’t fall our way.”
Springfield’s only points of the quarter came in the final seconds on a layup by Eeoghan Bees. Aquinas coach Matt Hackenberg said it was more than a bad-shooting quarter for the Tigers (17-7).
“We really sunk our teeth in in the half-court defense,” he said. “We were really able to guard them and stop them. One of our staples is our half-court defense and tonight it was a big factor in that second quarter.”
Minus the second-quarter, Springfield either tied or outscored the Knights — the team they defeated in last season’s district finals — in each period.
Trailing 34-24 entering the fourth quarter, the Tigers made a final push to save their season. A Bees 3-pointer cut the Aquinas lead to 39-33 with 3:06 remaining. The margin remained for the next two minutes, until a layup by Jared McTigue narrowed the gap to 44-39 with a minute to play.
But Springfield got no closer.
“They’re a good team,” Fender said of the Knights. “They’ve been there before. In the end, with the shooters they have, making free throws and converting at the end — that’s a big part of closing a game out.”
Turnovers were a major factor in the Tigers’ loss. Springfield committed 23 compared to Aquinas’ nine. Bees said the Knights defensive pressure caused plenty of stress.
“The first half was tough to get through,” he said. “The second half we did better with it, but that’s how they thrive. We played the game at the tempo that we wanted, but they were still able to get more turnovers in the half-court than we would have liked.”
Bees and Mark Schuler led the Tigers with 14 points while McTigue added 10.
“It’s sad that we have to go out like this and didn’t repeat as district as champions,” Bees said. “But for four years, we’ve worked our butts off to get where we got. We just loved competing. It stinks right now, but playing with these guys is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I’m sure that they feel the same.”
Anthony Snyder led the Knights with 26 points.
“He’s kind of streaky, but when he gets going he can light it up like he did tonight,” Hackenberg said.
Aquinas will face Akron Manchester the district final on Friday at 7 p.m. Manchester beat Canton Central Catholic, 44-32, in the other semifinal.