Girls basketball: Fairmont, Springboro advance to Division I districts

Firebirds upset top-seeded Bellbrook; Panthers beat GWOC foe Beavercreek

TROY — What’s the secret to getting a team with three freshmen starters ready to knock off the top seed in a Division I sectional final?

“Our kids have really embraced how to practice,” Fairmont coach Jeremey Finn said.

Practice hasn’t made the Firebirds perfect, but a season of it got them ready for Bellbrook on Saturday. Freshman guard Kaylah Thornton scored 21 points, freshman point guard Nico Cornett ran an efficient offense and the Firebirds stunned Bellbrook 52-40 to advance to their first district final since 2020.

“It feels amazing,” Thornton said. “We played our butts off, we each contribute a lot on defense and offense, and I’m just really proud of my teammates. Playing together, passing the ball, sharing the ball, rebounding, talking and communicating.”

The Firebirds (19-6) will most likely face Lakota East, the No. 2 seed in Cincinnati, next Saturday at Princeton High School. Bellbrook (20-5) played Saturday with a chance of a second straight trip to districts since their move up from Division II in the 2019-2020 season.

“It’s just a downer,” Bellbrook coach Jason Tincher said. “I’m just super proud of the girls, but we all know we just didn’t have our best day. It’s a bad feeling in the gut when it’s not from a lack of effort. You can’t afford to have off days.”

Tincher got his team as ready as he could with a non-conference schedule full of Division I teams. The Golden Eagles beat Springboro, another district qualifier, Beavercreek, Wayne and Miamisburg. They played good teams from Cincinnati. But Fairmont played a strong schedule as well and had its 3-2 zone defense ready to handle Bellbrook’s inside-outside game.

“We felt like we had a really good game plan as far as what we were trying to get them to do,” Finn said. “And then also we ran the floor pretty well and made some big shots at the right time.”

Fairmont led 25-15 at halftime and 39-23 after three quarters. They held Bellbrook’s Taylor Scohy to 10 points. Ashley Frantz scored 15, including 12 in the second half, and Alana Meyer scored 10 for Bellbrook.

Senior Serena Baker, Fairmont’s leading scorer, added 10 points and Cornett scored eight.

“With the young kids, it took some time to kind of work through getting to know each other,” Finn said. “Serena is a great leader, so she’s helped. They love to come and work, and they play together. I think that’s kind of what has taken us to the next step.”

Springboro 41, Beavercreek 28: Springboro, the tall and long team, won the first meeting 48-29 at Beavercreek. Beavercreek, the small and scrappy team, won the second 42-31 at Trent Arena in Flyin’ To The Hoop. The third was bound to be close. And it was until Panthers’ turned to a 3-2 zone and slowly pulled away in the second half.

“I wasn’t sure if it would be anything like the first game, but I thought we would play better than we did at Trent,” Panthers coach Tom Benjamin said. “We just came out after we had beaten them by 19 flat as a pancake.”

The Panthers (17-8) will most likely play Mason, the No. 3 seed in Cincinnati, next Saturday in the district finals for the third straight year. Mason won both previous meetings.

The Panthers made 20 of 27 free throws, much better than their 55.9% season average. Morgan Meek led the Panthers with 15 points and made 11 of 12 free throws. Lilli Leopard scored 10 points to lead the Beavers (17-8), who were 8 of 16 from the foul line.

The Beavers missed their first 15 shots of the second half. Mia Patterson’s layup with 2:44 left ended the drought and cut the Panthers’ lead to 28-22. But the Panthers made 9 of 10 free throws in the final 2:34.

“We start the second half with a couple really bad turnovers and let them leak out for some buckets in transition,” Beavers coach Aric Seilhamer said. “And then I think we had some great looks. But they’re big and tall, and if you can’t hit outside they clamp down in that zone.”

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