The third time was little more than another exercise in frustration for Franklin High School’s girls basketball team.
The Wildcats couldn’t solve Southwestern Buckeye League rival Bellbrook in three tries this season. The last was the most painful, a 42-27 setback Tuesday night in a Division II regional semifinal at Springfield.
“It’s the highs and lows of high school basketball. That’s just the way life is,” Franklin coach John Rossi said after his squad completed a 19-7 campaign with its first regional appearance. “If this is the worst thing that happens to these young kids, they’re all going to be very successful. I guarantee it.”
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Less than a week had passed since the Wildcats stunned Carroll with a Jordan Rogers 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third overtime to secure a 53-51 win in the district finals.
Franklin had no such magic Tuesday, managing one field goal and two free throws after getting within 27-23 midway through the third quarter.
“Last Friday night, we were emotionally high. We were through the roof,” Rossi said. “Tonight, we’re a little disappointed. But we’re going to learn from it. We’re going to hold our heads high. We’re going to represent Franklin. We’re going to represent the community. I said, ‘You didn’t let the fans down. You brought them all together.’ We’re not going to let one game define our season.”
Junior guard Layne Ferrell said it was an “amazing” year that should be followed by even more success next season. The Wildcats started three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman Tuesday.
“It’s a good experience for us to come here just to get used to it,” Ferrell said. “We were so young. I think next year we’ll do better.”
Bellbrook (19-8) will be back at Springfield on Friday at 7:30 p.m. to face Tippecanoe (25-2) for the regional championship. Tipp hammered Bloom-Carroll 50-28 in Tuesday’s second semifinal.
Cassidy Hofacker had 13 points and four rebounds in Bellbrook’s latest conquest of Franklin. Defense was the key in each meeting — the Wildcats totaled 97 points in their three defeats.
“I know in tournament time, defense wins games,” Golden Eagles coach Jason Tincher said. “We have some offense, but the scoreboard sometimes will take care of itself if you can rebound and defend and attack that rim.”
Ferrell and Rogers scored 8 points apiece for Franklin as Ferrell’s streak of 50 straight games in double figures came to an end.
“Our coach told us (about the streak) and we were like, ‘Well, that’s our goal, not to let her score 10,’ ” said Hofacker, who spent a considerable amount of time guarding Ferrell, as did teammate Bekah Vine. “I was like, ‘There’s no way she’s scoring on me and there’s no way we’re losing this game.’ ”
Bellbrook was more efficient than Franklin at both ends of the court. The Wildcats more than doubled the Golden Eagles in turnovers (14-6), and Hofacker put on a passing clinic in and around the FHS defense.
“I had a rough night,” said Ferrell, who hauled in 12 rebounds and was 2 of 4 at the line. “Give credit to their defense. They have a lot of intensity and just wear us out.”
Hofacker said there’s no secret to slowing Franklin down.
“Mainly the key is just stopping Layne Ferrell and helping on the rest of them and not letting them get 3s,” she said. “Our defense was good. Our shots weren’t falling, but we ended up going hard to the basket and making a lot of our shots. We were taking our time on offense and not rushing anything.”
Rossi said it all starts with guards Hofacker and Vine for Bellbrook, though the Golden Eagles also got solid contributions from players like Siera Ferguson (7 points, six rebounds) and Brooklynn Hall (8 points, four rebounds).
“They’re very quick on the perimeter. They’re very strong. They rebound the basketball real well,” Rossi said. “We had us for zero offensive rebounds, and they’ve got a lot to do with that. Their two guards are outstanding. We tried to switch our defenses off as much as possible. It just didn’t seem to faze ’em too much.”
Rossi said the Wildcats need to get physically stronger and mentally tougher to take the next step in 2018-19. He’s losing two seniors, Olivia Kelly and Caroline Elam, who didn’t see much action this year.
“We’re going to miss our two seniors,” Rossi said. “We asked them back in early November to accept the role that we’re asking of them, and for Caroline Elam and Olivia Kelly to accept that, I thought that showed great leadership. That set the tone for the younger kids. It showed a lot of character, and I think that epitomized our program.”
Tincher spent a little extra time with his team in the locker room after Tuesday’s game. He wanted to give his players an idea of what the state tournament is like.
“As tired as they are in there, their eyes kind of got big and they were like, ‘We can do this,’ ” Tincher said. “I wanted to go in there and maybe tell them a little bit about what it feels like to go there and how the town gets around you. I want them to be able to see it and dream it a little bit.”
Tincher took the Golden Eagles to state in 2012, and the program also made it there in 1976.
“It feels amazing,” Hofacker said. “Now we’ve just got to get the next one and go hard.”
Tincher said he took no great pleasure in ousting another SWBL team or a good friend like Rossi.
“It’s just a game that I’m glad it’s over, to be honest with you,” Tincher said. “It’s a shame one of us has to go home because I think we’re both having extraordinary years.”
He had special praise for the dual defensive performance Hofacker and Vine turned in against Ferrell.
“They’re my most competitive kids,” Tincher said. “We’re all competitive, but those are two four-year starters, and if you challenge them, they’re going to try to answer the call every single time.”
FRANKLIN (19-7): Jordan Rogers 2 3 8, Skyler Weir 1 0 3, Layne Ferrell 3 2 8, Emily Newton 2 1 5, Emma Bicknell 0 1 1, Brooke Stover 1 0 2. Totals: 9-7-27
BELLBROOK (19-8): Cassidy Hofacker 6 1 13, Bekah Vine 1 0 2, Kayla Paul 1 1 3, Brooklynn Hall 1 5 8, Siera Ferguson 3 1 7, Maren Freudenschuss 2 0 5, Olivia Greathouse 1 2 4. Totals: 15-10-42
3-pointers: F 2 (Rogers, Weir), B 2 (Freudenschuss, Hall)
BLOOM-CARROLL (15-11): Makenzee Mason 1 4 6, Maddy Wyant 0 1 1, McKenzie Powers 1 0 3, Chloe Davis 3 3 9, Nikki Bradbury 2 0 6, Alayna Ireland 1 0 3. Totals: 8-8-28
TIPPECANOE (25-2): Hailee Varvel 1 0 2, Brooke Aselage 5 0 11, Claire Hinkle 1 0 2, Cali Stewart 5 2 15, Ashleigh Mader 1 0 2, Allison Mader 3 3 9, Maddie Frederick 3 0 7, Chloe Schretzman 1 0 2. Totals: 20-5-50
3-pointers: B 4 (Bradbury 2, Powers, Ireland), T 5 (Stewart 3, Frederick, Aselage)