It’s already been a season of overachievement for Springboro High School’s girls basketball team. Why not keep it going?
That’s the Panthers’ attitude as they prepare to face Lakota West in a Division I district final Saturday at Harrison.
“Lakota West is an elite team. I think they could win state,” Springboro coach Tom Benjamin said. “I don’t think anybody would dispute that Springboro is the underdog. But we’re going to go in and take a shot.”
The Panthers and Firebirds have identical 20-5 records, but one of Springboro’s losses came at the hands of West, a 53-27 rout Dec. 16 in West Chester Twp.
“I hoped that we would have a good season, but I wasn’t sure we could do it,” Panthers sophomore Kelly Wurth said. “I think we proved throughout the season that we’re not the team people thought we were going to be.
“I think Lakota West is going to underestimate us a little bit, but I don’t think we can come out and automatically think it’s going to be a close game. If we come in with the right attitude and make shots, I think we can make it really close.”
Wurth scored 12 points in the first meeting with the Firebirds. She was the only Boro player in double figures.
Springboro took a 68-29 drubbing from Centerville the day before traveling to West.
“We had spent all week pretty much preparing just for Centerville,” Wurth said. “The next day we went to Lakota West, and we were all kind of slow and worn out from the day before. We just weren’t ready for it.
“Xenia pressured us like that, but I don’t think they had enough skill to back it up and make us pay for our mistakes. Against Lakota West, every mistake counted because they scored on almost all of them.”
Benjamin summed up that game like this: “They beat us pretty handily, and we couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the beach.”
“They turned us over,” he said. “They just had too much defense for us. Too physical, too much speed, too much strength. We’ve got to handle those things that they do automatically. And it’ll be tough.”
Wurth is the Panthers’ point guard, leading scorer (17.2) and top rebounder (7.4). Junior guard Courtney Hillis is also scoring in twin digits (11.6) and has hit 57 treys.
Also in Springboro’s starting lineup are junior forwards Rachel Price and Lexxie Phipps, along with sophomore guard Kasey Hughes.
The roster includes no seniors, yet the Panthers were unbeaten in the Greater Western Ohio Conference South Division.
“We are way above my expectations,” admitted Benjamin, in his ninth year at the SHS helm. “Maybe the kids expected this, but I did not expect us to be 20-5. I thought 14 or 15 wins would be big. We played a little better than we anticipated, and the league kind of came to us a little bit.”
Wurth said the Panthers are a close-knit group.
“I think we all mesh well together because we’re so close in age,” she said. “We play hard and really well together. We love each other no matter what happens.”
Benjamin said there’s no question about the key element in this district title game. Can Springboro handle West’s defensive pressure?
“We’re going to have to lift the level of our game,” Benjamin said. “It will be grueling in the sense that we’re going to have to be tough mentally and physically. Then you’ve got to go play. We’re going to have to have some people score more than they’ve averaged.”
The Panthers like to switch defenses and play a lot of zone. Benjamin believes the zone is helpful in neutralizing the athleticism of an opponent. He also feels it makes teams overthink at times on offense.
It’s a bit ironic that Springboro’s point guard plays in the back of the zone and sweeps the glass with a high level of proficiency.
“I think we’re better when we can transition, but we transition in a way that’s pretty specific,” Benjamin said. “Our best transition this year has been when we’re in a zone and Kelly Wurth rebounds the ball and takes it down the court, no outlet pass.
“We’d like to run against everybody, but not everybody can you run on. And usually with good teams, you’ve got to be better in the halfcourt anyway. You don’t get transition against good teams. You better be able to sit down and slug it out in the halfcourt.”
West coach Andy Fishman doesn’t put much stock in the first meeting with the Panthers. He sees a confident squad on a seven-game winning streak.
“It was so long ago that it’s hard to gauge,” Fishman said. “We have to be on top of our game. We have to really be able to compete with the same passion and sense of discipline we’ve had, as well as the joy and confidence. That’s what our run has been all about.”
Winners of 11 straight games, the Firebirds got back to full strength when senior forward Elisabeth Carter — who had been out with a concussion — played against Mason in the sectional finals.
Fishman said he’s not sure if she’ll return to the starting lineup Saturday.
“It’s not a big issue for anybody in our program right now,” said Fishman, who’s been starting sophomore Lexi Wasan in Carter’s place. “Lis played one of the best games she’s played against Mason, and she didn’t start. So how much did starting really matter?”
The West-Springboro winner will advance to the regional semifinals at Wright State University, facing either Centerville or Mother of Mercy on Wednesday at 8 p.m.