If Springboro and Walnut Hills were to meet again, it figured to be deep in the Division I boys high school basketball postseason.
That’s why the two titans didn’t have a rematch until Wednesday’s regional semifinal at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. And just like that first meeting way back in late December, Springboro went out wishing for yet another do-over, falling 52-46.
The Panthers’ loss finishes off the last of the area D-I boys teams from the tourney trail. Hills (26-1) moves on to Friday’s regional final also here against La Salle, a 55-43 winner over Colerain in Wednesday’s other semi.
Hills also won that first meeting against Springboro, 63-62.
It was a rare matchup of designated big men. Both teams leaned heavily inside; Springboro to 6-foot-11 Illinois University-bound Maverick Morgan and Walnut Hills to 6-9 Isaiah Johnson, who’s headed to Ohio.
They challenged each other throughout, constantly begging for the ball and more often than not, delivering. By halftime Morgan had 12 of Boro’s 19 points. But the Panthers had little else going offensively.
Johnson bulled for 10 points. Extra muscle came from 6-10 Jordan Tyson.
Whatever was missing for Springboro in the first half – which was just about everything but Morgan – made an impressive third-quarter impact.
The defense stepped up, holding Hills to five meager points. Ryan Murray’s jumper pulled Boro within two heading into the final quarter. Springboro’s comeback was complete when Jake Pfahl ‘s bomb put Springboro up, 35-34.
But just as quickly, Hills was back in control, doing what it does so well. Pressuring Boro into turnovers and hammering the offensive boards, a 6-0 run would put the Eagles back into control for good.
Another Pfahl trey – he scored 11 — pulled Boro within two. Morgan struck next with the last of his game-high 19 points (to go with 11 rebounds and six blocks) to keep Boro within two. Hills would clinch it with six final free throws.
It ended a memorable season for Springboro (22-5). Coach Jay Byrne, former the head coach at Middletown, has maintained this is a one-and-done season for him following the ouster of longtime coach Trey Holtrey. Morgan developed into the most accomplished area big man since Matt Kavanaugh of Centerville.
Now it’s up to Division II, III and IV area teams to pick up a final four push.