Bellbrook’s Kayla Paul (30) pressures Franklin’s Brooke Stover (34) during Tuesday night’s Division II regional semifinal at Springfield. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Bellbrook, Tipp break through GCL stranglehold on D-II regional

All runs find a finish. Ironic this one hit the spike strips now.

Competing in the first basketball postseason affected by the OHSAA’s Competitive Balance initiative, Bellbrook and Tippecanoe meet Friday at 7:30 p.m. in an all-public school Division II girls regional final at Springfield High School. The game marks the first time in the 21st Century that the D-II regional played at Springfield (and Vandalia prior), will not feature a school from the Greater Catholic League in the final. It’s also the first time since 2005, that Alter, Carroll and/or Chaminade Julienne is not in the game.

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“I don’t think there was any intimidation involved, it was more that they just out-executed us,” Tipp coach Andy Holderman said. “There’s no gimme anywhere at this level, regardless who you play. They’ve played better.”

The last three years, Tipp played Alter in the regional and lost. Twice the Red Devils fell in the final. Last year it was the semis. Two years ago the Knights beat Bellbrook in the Sweet 16 and Tipp in the Elite 8.

This year, Alter, going for a fourth straight D-II state championship, didn’t escape the first round.

Fittingly, the Eagles (19-8) and Red Devils (25-2) navigated their way to Friday’s historic match-up. The two met last year in a district final that Tipp survived 43-40.

The Red Devils rank second in Ohio girls basketball history with 828 total wins, while Fort Loramie (818), Springboro (779) and Beavercreek (770) are among the Top 10. Bellbrook (745) sits just outside.

Both programs own two regional titles and a runner-up finish at state.

Bellbrook, which beat Alter, CJ and Carroll en route to the 2012 state tournament, was runner-up in the OHSAA’s first sanctioned postseason (1976). Tipp posted back-to-back state trips in 1986 (runners-up) and 1987.

The Eagles were not expected to fly this far by many. Tipp was.

The Red Devils returned four starters from last year’s 23-win team and added Iowa State recruit Maddie Frederick, a 6-0 senior guard who relocated in late July from Chandler, Ariz. Frederick was named the Southwest District AP D-II player of the year Thursday.

Six of Tipp’s top eight players are part of a senior class that owns 97 wins. Frederick averages a team-high 15.8 points, while senior Allison Mader, a Cedarville University recruit, adds 14. Mader returned in the regional semifinals after suffering a concussion in the regular season finale.

“We haven’t been able to get out of Springfield,” Holderman said. “We’ve been here four years in a row and can’t get out. You hope the experience will help, but in this game you need luck, skill, execution and for everything to align.”

Bellbrook understands.

Following a 43-28 loss to Beavercreek on Jan. 22 in which the Eagles notched their lowest scoring output of the season and fell to 8-7, Bellbrook coach Jason Tincher said his team was looking for answers. They found them.

The Eagles are 11-1 since with the only loss coming at D-I district finalist Fairmont.

Senior guards Cassidy Hofacker and Bekah Vine headline a blossoming and young roster. Six of the Eagles top nine players are juniors and sophomores.

“We talk about (the Beavercreek game) still,” Tincher said. “We talked about it last night. The schedule that we took on this year was by plan and on purpose. At that point in the season, it made us answer some tough questions. If we would’ve had an easier schedule, I don’t think we would have been able to answer those questions. We wouldn’t be where we are.”

Schedule strength has helped Bellbrook and Tipp flex postseason muscle.

Bellbrook, just 25 girls away from being D-I in the OHSAA’s last round of realignment, played Centerville, Fairmont, Beavercreek, Northmont and Miamisburg this season. Tipp played 14 games against D-I opponents, including Springboro and Fairmont. The Red Devils also scheduled non-league games against small school stalwarts Fort Loramie, Versailles, West Liberty-Salem and Miami East. Bellbrook played Scott County, currently ranked sixth in the Kentucky AP poll.

“That’s a goal and a necessity for a tournament run,” Holderman said of hardy opponents. “Bellbrook lost eight games this season, but obviously they learned some things from those games against the bigger schools. You don’t want to have a cupcake schedule. You have to be tested and at your best come tournament time.

“Bellbrook’s there. So are we.”