Tears were shed. Hugs were given. White flowers were passed out and balloons full of helium hovered over Springboro High School’s bench. The scene was set for Senior Day as the Panthers honored nine future graduates.
There was also a basketball game to play and the stakes were high.
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By defeating rival Lebanon, 58-47, the Panthers clinched the Greater Western Ohio Conference National West championship, the program’s fifth straight title.
With emotions running high, long-time Springboro coach Tom Benjamin wasn’t sure if his team would be affected playing against a tough opponent.
“My first concern was how we were going to get through Senior Day,” he said. “My second concern was, I think Lebanon is pretty good and I knew we were going to have other things on our mind, but my God, i thought we played very well.”
Springboro started the game leaving little doubt.
The Panthers built a 16-6 lead in the first quarter and went into halftime up 31-19 behind some hot shooting.
Lebabon coach Rob Hodges said Springboro shot 65 percent from the field during the first half.
“That’s a tough one to beat,” Hodges said.
Senior Lily Browning scored 13 points to lead the Panthers. She made four of the Panthers’ five 3-pointers .
Fellow senior Jordan Diehl added 12, while junior Rachel Gillum had eight.
Despite trailing by 20 in the fourth quarter, Lebanon didn’t go quietly.
The Warriors cut into the Panthers deficit behind a stellar second-half performance from senior Alexis Straw, who scored 19 points. Kendall Foley added 10 points, while Ashley West added eight.
Lebanon got to within 11, but that’s where the comeback stalled.
“… Just not enough time to come back,” Hodges said. “If there was about six more minutes left in the game, maybe we could’ve made more of a run.”
The Panthers will enter the first-round of the sectional tournament battle tested, having advanced to the district finals last season and the regional semifinals in 2016.
Browning believes the Panthers have what it takes to get to the state tourney in Columbus if they can avoid playing the “really bad game” they’ve encountered a few times this season, according to Browning.
Browning referenced Springboro’s loss on Jan. 6 Cincinnati’s Mount Notre Dame, a team ranked No. 10 in the state. The Panthers led at halftime by five points, but ended up losing to by 11.
“I think we are capable of going to state,” she said. “I think we just got to get over that hump where our usual bad game is.”
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