By Jeff Louderback
Centerville and Springfield shared 10-2 records in the Greater Western Ohio Conference National East, and each school won on the other’s home court during the regular season. The Elks and Panthers clash again Wednesday night at 8 in a regional semifinal match-up at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
Propelled by its tenacious defense, Springfield (17-9) is on a post-season roll, winning four tournament games and a district title after ending the regular season with a hard-fought 94-87 loss to powerhouse Trotwood-Madison.
Guided by a roster that gets contributions from seven seniors, and paced by well-balanced scoring, the 21-5 Centerville Elks rebounded from a 4-5 start to win 17 in a row and a district championship.
Springfield outlasted host Centerville, 64-60, in mid-December. Centerville responded with a 60-44 victory at Springfield on Feb. 1, extending the Elks’ winning streak to seven games at the time.
Undefeated and top-ranked Cincinnati Moeller (25-0) continues its quest to defend its Division I state title when it plays Lakota East (20-5) in the other regional semifinal on Thursday. Tip-off is 6:15 p.m.
Moeller prevailed at Lakota East, 61-53 on Jan. 20. It was the Crusaders’ most competitive game, next to their 62-55 victory at Chaminade-Julienne in the regular season finale on Feb. 2.
The semifinal winners will advance to regional final at Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Cintas Center. The regional champion will move on to the Division I Final Four.
Centerville’s record was 4-5 after a 54-33 loss at Cincinnati Moeller on Jan. 5. It has not lost since. Moeller routed visiting Springfield, 74-42, in late January.
The Panthers had to adjust their roster mid-season when seniors Michael Brown-Stephens (Minnesota) and Isaiah Gibson (Kentucky) graduated early and started college.
Senior guard Ra’Heim Moss is averaging 18 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three assists per game for Springfield, which has a suffocating full-court press and held Cincinnati Elder scoreless in the first quarter of a 55-35 win in last weekend’s district championship.
Fellow senior guard David Sanford (13.7 points, 3.4 assists, 2.1 steals per game) and junior guard Larry Stephens (nine points, three assists and two steals per game) are among the Panthers’ vaunted mayhem makers.
Centerville senior point guard Ryan Marchal fuels his teammates with accurate three-point shooting, playmaking drives, timely assists, and hustling defense. The senior point guard collected a game-high 22 points (going 6-for-10 from the field), hit two three-pointers, converted 8 or 10 free throws, added two steals and dished off two assists in the Elks’ district championship winning game against Mason. On the season, Marchal is averaging nine points, four assists and 3.5 rebounds.
The Elks only have one player averaging in double figures in scoring, senior Matt Pearce at 12.4 points per game (47.7 percent from the three-point range). Along with Pearce and Marchal, fellow seniors Jason Sneed (7.3), Kaleb Mitchell (6.6), and junior Njie (8.7), are the only other players scoring more than five points a game, reflecting their balanced approach. Njie’s presence is especially felt on the defensive end, where he averages three blocked shots a game and deters drives in the paint.
Kettering’s Trent Arena hosts three Division III regional semifinal games on Wednesday. Versailles (15-10) faces Cincinnati Purcell Marian (22-4) in the 5:30 p.m. and Dayton City League champion Stivers (20-4) meets Anna (24-2) at 8 p.m.