SALEM -Inter-Tri County League Tier 1 champion and top-seed Springfield Local wasn't really concerned that second-seeded South Range decided to jump in its side of the bracket during the draw for the Division III district tournament at Salem High School.
"We would have loved to play them in the district final," Springfield coach Eric Fender said. "That would have been special, but there's no chip on my shoulder about it. They're a good basketball team and we knew we were going to get a good game no matter what."
The Tigers made the Raiders regret their decision a bit by scoring a 56-52 victory on Tuesday in a Div. III district semifinal at Salem High School.
Springfield (20-2) was led by Ron Rogers' 23 points - including a 10 for 10 performance at the free throw line. The senior made four straight free throws in the last 29 seconds to preserve the close victory.
"I was happy South Range (jumped on us in the draw), but I wish we were playing them in the finals," Rogers said.
The Tigers will play St. Thomas Aquinas (9-13) in the district final at 7 p.m. on Friday. Aquinas beat Crestview 65-42 in the other district semifinal on Tuesday.
The Tigers showed patience early and had a 14-8 lead after the first quarter. It helped that the Raiders made only 2 of 14 shots from the field in the opening eight minutes.
Springfield had a lead of seven points at one point in the second quarter and were happy to walk into the break up 24-19. South Range had a hard time in that quarter as well making 5 of 17 shots from the field.
"One of the biggest things for us was our shots were not falling in the first half," Purins said.
The key was the Tigers' defensive plan against sharpshooter Brandon Pluchinsky. The senior was 1 for 8 from the field in the first half. He had tallied 31 points in the sectional final against East Palestine last Wednesday.
"My dad works with Harold McCue (South Range's assistant coach) and he told my dad that Pluchinsky is one of the best shooters he has seen," Fender said. "We knew that going in. He's a great three-point shooter. We knew we had to find him an limit his shots. If he did take them, they had to be contested."
Springfield kept him in check well into the third quarter. With 3:42 left in the period and the Tigers up 36-25, Pluchinsky started to heat up. He would hit 3 three-pointers and another basket to close the quarter to help the Raiders close to within two at the end of the third.
Rogers said the run was due to a change in defense for the Tigers.
"We played good defense on him and then our coach told us to guard the high post," Rogers said. "That left him open a little bit more."
After seeing what Pluchinsky did, Rogers wasn't sure he would have made that change if he was the coach.
"I probably would have not done that," Rogers said.
Pluchinsky ended the game with a team-high 14 points.
South Range (17-5) took a 46-44 lead with 6:56 left in the fourth on a breakaway bucket by Andy Lacefield. The two teams would swap leads three times before a Jared McTigue basket with 1:55 to go gave the Tigers a 52-50 lead. Springfield got possession back with 1:21 left and went to work killing clock. The Raiders did not send the Tigers to the free throw line until there was 29 seconds left.
That's when Rogers, who also had nine rebounds, made sure there was no last second drama.
"I knew I had to step up and knock them down," Rogers said. "I'm pretty decent at shooting free throws, so I just had to make them."
Eoghan Bees assisted in the winning effort with eight of his 11 points coming in the first half. McTigue had 10 points and helped limit South Range's post Dan Good to eight points.
Raiders coach Dave Purins said that he didn't regret going into the bracket with Springfield. After all, the Raiders were the last team to beat the Tigers.
"Canton Central lost to St. Thomas Aquinas," Purins said. "That says enough. We didn't jump on Springfield. We put ourselves in their side of the bracket, sure. We prepared for tonight and had every shot to get it. It just didn't happen."
Springfield, in its first district final since 2005, is 1-6 in district finals at Salem High School.
"The thing I look at is how many teams are going to get an opportunity to play for a district title," Fender said. "History is history. These guys are making their own history right now and that's what we're focused on."
SOUTH RANGE: 8-11-22-10-52
SPRINGFIELD SCORING: Joe Ohlin 2-1-5, Eoghan Bees 4-2-11, Nick Russell 1-3-5, Tom Mastran 1-0-2, Ron Rogers 5-10-23, Jared McTigue 5-0-10, Ryan Stacy 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 18, 16-20: 56.
SOUTH RANGE SCORING: Brandon Pluchinsky 5-1-14, Ross Stoffer 2-3-7, Zac Czopur 0-0-0, Andy Lacefield 3-0-6, Jordan Baker 5-2-12, Dan Good 3-2-8, Isaac Schuster 1-35. TEAM TOTALS: 19, 11-14: 52.
Three-point goals: Springfield 4 (Rogers 3, Bees), South Range 3 (Pluchinsky).