Franklin High School’s girls basketball team swung and missed in its first two shots at Bellbrook this season.
The Wildcats are hoping Round 3 goes a bit better, though coach John Rossi knows the task is a tall one.
“They’re probably playing as well as anybody right now in Ohio at the D-II level,” said Rossi, whose Franklin squad will meet the Golden Eagles in a Division II regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday at Springfield. “They’re used to a big stage like this. It’s no surprise they’re there.”
The Wildcats (19-6) lost to the Golden Eagles 66-36 on Dec. 9 and 52-34 on Jan. 18 during Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division play.
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Rossi said Bellbrook (18-8) likes to play a pressure game all over the floor, and Franklin hasn’t always dealt with it in a positive way.
“As soon as they walk into the gym, they’re ready to guard people full court,” Rossi said. “The first time we played them was on the road, and it was our third straight loss. We had a little ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting the very next day. We tweaked some things defensively, and then we went out and beat Edgewood, which was undefeated at the time. That propelled us to 10 straight wins.
“The second time we played Bellbrook, we were nip and tuck for the first half. I think their experience and their pressure wore us down in the second half. I’m sure I got outcoached that day. I don’t want to say we didn’t battle for 32 minutes. We didn’t make plays for 32 minutes, and they did.
“If you defend the basketball and value it and rebound it, the scoreboard’s going to take care of itself. That’s what we’ve been talking to these kids about since the fourth or fifth game of the year. We’ve got to exemplify a little more mental toughness than we did the first two games against them.”
The Golden Eagles have been to the district finals the last three years and advanced to the regional in 2016.
Jason Tincher, in his 14th season at the Bellbrook helm, said he’s happy to see two SWBL teams and a good friend like Rossi doing so well.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had SWBL teams playing each other in the regional before,” Tincher said. “I have nothing but respect for John and his kids and those families at Franklin. It’s kind of bittersweet having to play them either way. I know their kids will be dialed in.
“If you get to this point, you’ve just got to relish the moment and take advantage of your opportunity. As a player, you’ve got a chance to leave your mark on the program. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done against Franklin before. We’ve got to keep our sights on Tuesday and trying to fulfill our goals.”
Senior guards Cassidy Hofacker and Bekah Vine are the Golden Eagles’ leaders. They’re four-year players and the team’s two leading scorers, Hofacker with an 11.8 average at the point and Vine with a 10.8 average.
“They make us go,” said Tincher, noting that Vine is set to play soccer at Liberty University. “The energy they bring on both sides of the floor is tremendous.”
Sophomore guard Brooklynn Hall, sophomore forward Kayla Paul and senior center Siera Ferguson are also starters for Bellbrook. Hall tallied 20 points in the district-final win over Roger Bacon. Juniors Olivia Greathouse and Maren Freudenschuss are key contributors off the bench.
“We’re young, but at the same time, we’ve got some depth and a lot of experience,” Tincher said. “We’ve had four ACL injuries this year. We’ve all gone through some peaks and valleys throughout the season. Against Roger Bacon, I thought we played very well. Our girls put in a lot of mental work to prepare for that, which I thought was nice. Playing Franklin, it’s more of an emotional game. Our kids know their kids, their kids know our kids.”
For the Wildcats, junior guard Layne Ferrell is the SWBL’s top scorer (23.2). She’s reached double figures in 50 straight games. The last time she didn’t was Feb. 6, 2016, in a 2-point performance at Eaton.
Freshman point guard Jordan Rogers (7.4) and junior center Emily Newton (7.2) are also among Franklin’s leaders in points.
The Wildcats have won eight of their last nine games.
“I think our kids are ready for the task. They’ve just got to believe,” Rossi said. “I don’t think these kids understand the magnitude of this. They’re still having fun and playing together. They’re more of a loosey-goosey group, and I’ve had to adjust to that a little bit. The old school ‘Hey, we’re going to do it my way or we’re out the door’ … I think that’s out the door, to tell you the truth. That’s why I give a lot of credit to my coaches. We’ve been able to adjust to our personnel rather than having them adjust to us.”