By Jeff Louderback
Springfield’s mayhem-making defensive pressure forces its opponents to earn every basket and every win.
After overcoming that vaunted defense throughout the game, the Centerville Elks faced one final task to secure a victory and advance to the regional finals. Holding a 66-63 lead with 2.4 seconds left, the Elks had to inbound the ball under Springfield’s basket, and avoid a steal and a potentially game-tying three-pointer.
Mission accomplished, as senior Davis Mumaw grabbed the pass and was fouled, and he connected on the first of two free throws with four-tenths of a second remaining to give Centerville a 67-63 win and a berth in the regional finals against undefeated and top-ranked Moeller Saturday at the Cintas Center.
“We did not take care of the ball as well as we would have liked in the first half, and at times in the second half, but that can be attributed to Springfield’s pressure,” Centerville head coach Brook Cupps said. “(Springfield head coach) Isaiah Carson does an exceptional job with his full-court defensive game plan, and his players do an exceptional job executing it.
“You know what you are going to face when you play Springfield,” Cupps added. “We knew we would have to effectively handle that, get high-percentage shots and consistently hit our threes to win, and that’s what we did.”
The Elks carry an 18-game win streak into the rematch with Moeller. Centerville has not lost since falling to Moeller, 54-33, on Jan. 5. Moeller (26-0), which has not lost to an Ohio team since falling in the Division I state championship game in 2017, easily defeated Lakota East, 47-33, in the opening regional semifinal Wednesday at the Cintas Center.
Centerville and Springfield won on each other’s home court during the regular season and finished with matching 10-2 records in the GWOC National East.
Mo Njie, Centerville’s 6-foot-9 junior center, posted a remarkable stat line with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks. He also altered many other shots and forced Springfield to make errant passes and turnovers.
The 22-5 Elks have received balanced scoring all season. Mumaw hit three three-pointers in the first half and finished with a team-high 15 points. Jason Sneed added 12 while Ryan Ballard scored 11.
David Sanford poured in a game-high 20 points for the Wildcats, which finished the season at 17-10. Ra’Heim Moss, a two-sport standout who is outstanding on the gridiron and the hardwood, had 16 points and four assists.
Springfield established the tone from the opening tip, harassing the Elks with its trademark frenzied defensive pressure. The Elks took possession on the tip by Njie, but only 17 seconds elapsed before the Wildcats created a turnover off a Ray Cole steal and Jeff Tolliver dropped in a layup off the fast break.
Njie’s first block was in the first minute of the game, and he recorded 11 more. Springfield led 12-11 after one quarter, its lead trimmed when Centerville’s Ryan Ballard buried a three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Elks seized an 18-16 lead on a Njie rebound and stickback with 5:29 left in the second quarter. Centerville gradually pulled away, propelled by a three-pointer from Pearce and later in the quarter, consecutive treys by Mumaw. His three-pointer with 2:12 remaining in the half lifted the Elks ahead, 27-22.
A dunk from Njie, courtesy of an assist by Marchal, and then a jump hook from Njie with 24 seconds on the clock, gave Centerville a 31-22 lead at halftime.
Centerville seemed to take control early in the third quarter. Marchal scored on a driving layup in the first minute for a 33-22 Elks advantage. A three-pointer from Pearce increased the lead to 14. Mumaw had a trio of treys, but his three-point play after a layup and a free throw gave Centerville a game-high 15-point cushion at 39-24 with six minutes left. The Wildcats could have unraveled, but they recovered and mounted a rally.
“When we were up 15, I said, ‘I wish it was three minutes left in the fourth quarter instead of two minutes into the third quarter,’” Cupps said. “This is the regional semifinals. We knew Springfield was not going to pack it in and call it a season. With their defense, they can get back into a game fast.”
The Wildcats proved Cupps right. Stephens’ trey cut the deficit to 39-27 with 5:39 remaining. Over the next two-plus minutes, Springfield’s defensive pressure created three Elks turnovers while the Wildcats converted on a pair of free throws from Sanford, a layup and a dunk from Cole and a layup from Stephens, set up by a steal from Moss. Centerville’s once comfortable edge was sliced to 39-35, and the third quarter ended with the Elks clinging to a 44-40 lead.
Springfield pulled within a bucket at 47-45 when Sanford landed a trey with 6:30 left, but Centerville staged another surge and took a 56-49 lead on Marchal’s driving lay-in with 3:09 remaining.
Marchal left the game with what appeared to be a calf cramp and was affected by the ailment the rest of the fourth quarter, entering and leaving a few times. Njie departed with an ankle injury after a dunk on one end and yet another blocked shot on the other end with 2:41 on the clock. Njie returned, but was was hobbled and his ankle could be one factor in the regional finals against Moeller.
The final two minutes were chaos, with the intense and hard play from both teams, and more blown calls by the officiating crew.
In a 33 second stretch over the final 1:09 in the fourth quarter, officials botched two calls that resulted in two inexplicable technicals on Centerville senior point guard Ryan Marchal.
The Elks held a 62-57 lead and had the ball when Marchal drove and was tied up by three Springfield defenders, and the players fell to the ground. On a clean, aggressive play, possession was given to Springfield with 1:24 left. Marchal got up, took a step and became inadvertently tangled with Sanford, who lost his balance, fell backward and tumbled to the floor. No altercation, just two players getting tangled, and one losing his balance. An official on the other side of the court whistled Marchal for a technical, and Sanford sank both free throws, cutting the Elks’ lead to 62-59.
With 34 seconds left, Marchal was fouled and connected on both free throws, lifting Centerville to a 64-59 advantage. On Springfield’s next possession, Sanford missed a three-pointer that was rebounded by Mumaw. He was quickly fouled by Jalan Minney, who was trying to tie up the ball. As the call was made, Marchal hustled back to the other end of the court, and offered Mumaw a congratulatory slap on the shoulder along the way. He was whistled for his second technical foul. Perhaps the official thought Marchal was trying to hit a Springfield player next to Mumaw, but video footage clearly shows Marchal was congratulating Mumaw for grabbing a key rebound at a crucial point in the game.
After the Minney foul and the technical on Marchal, Mumaw missed the front end of the bonus, and then Sanford hit one of two free throws, making it 64-60.
Pearce was fouled and hit one of two at then line for a 65-60 Elks lead, and after Stephens missed a three-point attempt, Ballard was fouled and connected on one of two at the line, giving Centerville a 66-60 edge with seven seconds remaining.
At that point, the outcome was seemingly sealed, but Sneed was whistled for a foul against Sanford on his three-point attempt, and Sanford sank all three free throws, providing a glimmer of hope for the Wildcats. But Centerville was able to break the pressure, get the ball inbounds and draw a foul with four-tenths of a second remaining. Mumaw hit a free throw to clinch the win.