Springboro’s fast start stunned Lakota West in its Division I girls district final Saturday afternoon. But 12-4 didn’t cause Firebirds coach Andy Fishman to panic.
“I always felt like we could do it,” he said.
Then the second quarter happened. Springboro outscored the Firebirds 24-11 for an 18-point halftime lead and rolled in the second half to a 71-43 victory.
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The Panthers (21-5) shot 57.1 percent, made six of nine 3-pointers, committed only nine turnovers and outrebounded the Firebirds (21-5) 36-16.
“They put together a near-perfect basketball game,” Fishman said. “They just executed better today and had even more energy. That’s what happens sometimes. As ready as you think you are, you’re not as ready as you think you are and another team wants it more.”
Springboro coach Tom Benjamin said, “West is always good, they’re always well-coached. To come and get this kind of a win is such a great thing for our program, our players.”
Chance Gray led the Firebirds, matching her season average with 20 points, including a couple of step-back 3-pointers just to get a shot off.
“The girl can make some shots,” Benjamin said. “I thought she had to work for almost everything she got.”
The Firebirds, who lost in the district final last year to Centerville, were without second-leading scorer Kailyn Dudukovich (15.6 points a game) for most of the game. She played about four minutes of the first half and left with a foot injury. Fishman said Dudukovich has played through pain several times.
“She knows the difference between something that’s sprained and a bump or a bruise and something that’s more serious,” he said. “She has the heart of a champion and wanted to be out there, and I told her that I appreciated that.”
Springboro was led by Jordan Hobbs with 26 points and Peyton Nation with 16. But it was the memory of assistant and junior varsity coach Wayne Kemper that inspired the Panthers.
Kemper died Sunday at 71 and a memorial service was held Thursday. The Panthers honored his memory with a photo of him on an empty chair next to Benjamin, flowers on the chair, his favorite drink of Diet Mountain Dew under the chair and warmup shirts with his last name on the back.
Fishman knew Kemper well and coached in an all-star game with him a few years ago.
“You can look at life’s misfortunes as a blessing or a curse,” he said. “Although you can’t ever have a life back, I think that they’ve handled it in the best possible way. You know how much he loved the basketball scene, and how much he loved Springboro and the program, and how loyal he was to Benj, and they’re all riding that emotion right now. We needed to match that, and we just couldn’t do it today.”
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