VANDALIA — Springfield rallied in the second half to beat Sidney in a Division I sectional final on Saturday at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center, but the biggest applause came at the end for Sidney’s Andre Gordon.
Though he didn’t get district final berth he had hoped for, Gordon left the court hoisting a ball high in the air to a standing ovation of a crowd of about 4,000 people.
It was a sweet moment for the Yellow Jackets at the end of a bitter game. Springfield trailed by three points with a minute left in the third quarter but took the lead before the start of the fourth and held on for a 65-60 victory.
“I feel like we gave it our all,” Gordon said. “We beat them all three quarters but the fourth quarter. We were pushing. Everyone gave it their all; seniors gave it their all.”
It’s the fifth consecutive sectional title for the Wildcats (16-9), and their second with a win over Sidney. Springfield beat Sidney 63-62 in a sectional final last year.
Gordon, a senior point guard, reached 2,000 career points on a free throw with 1:22 left in the third quarter. He became the school’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season and finishes with 2,013 career points and 550 career assists. Sidney athletic director Mitch Hoying presented him with a game ball after the game, which he hoisted toward the crowd.
“He’ll go down as the best player in school history,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “For what he’s accomplished, and what the team has accomplished as a team, he’s going to go down as the very best.
“I know I’m biased, but just coaching Andre and the way he’s acted, you’re not going to get much better or any better.”
Gordon was held scoreless in the first quarter but finished with a game-high 25 points. He got Sidney’s other players involved throughout the game, including on two dart passes he made while looking in the opposite direction that ended with baskets.
Springfield coach Isaiah Carson said he was pleased with the defensive effort of Springfield’s Larry Stephens, who guarded Gordon most of the night.
“He did a phenomenal job,” Carson said. “He’s seen a lot of good guards with the (tough) schedule that we’ve played, some really, really good ones. You’ve got to credit the team, too, because they do a good job behind Larry.”
Sidney senior forward Ratez Roberts finished with 12 points and had over 10 rebounds and three blocks. Senior guard Josiah Hudgins also scored 12 points.
“Josiah had a heck of a game, and I’m glad for him,” Willoughby said. “Our subs did what they’re supposed to do, and we got a lot of guys involved. …But not enough scoring elsewhere. We probably didn’t get Ratez involved enough.
“We scored 60, and I thought we were playing good defense, but they hit a lot of (shots), and they hit free throws, better than we thought they would.”
Sidney finishes 20-5 overall. The win total is the highest in school history. Sidney has won 73 games in the last four years, which ties the 1985-88 teams for the highest total in any four-year period.
“We ran down the list of their accomplishments right after the game, and right after the game, it doesn’t mean much to the players,” Willoughby said. “But I told them when they get to my age, they have a lot of things they can brag about. Wins a season, wins in four years. Individuals had outstanding careers — not only Andre.”
Few in Sidney were thinking a return trip to a sectional final was possible last fall. Gordon transferred to Huntington Prep after last school year and intended to finish his career with the Huntington, West Virginia program.
But after picking up an offer from Virginia Tech in late October, he returned to Sidney a few weeks later to finish his career with his senior teammates, which he’s played with since elementary school.
“It’s crazy,” Gordon said. “I know I’ve got Virginia Tech next year, but I’m really sad I’ll never be playing with these kids again. That’s the bad part.”
Gordon and Sidney’s seniors had hoped to earn the program’s first sectional title since 1999. Springfield’s defensive pressure and clutch shot-making proved too much in the second half, though.
Like last season’s sectional final in Centerville, Saturday’s was back and forth throughout — and things got chipper in the bleachers at times.
Gordon’s free throws put Sidney ahead 43-42, then he scored on a layup 20 seconds later to push the lead to three points. Springfield made four free throws by the end of the quarter (with three by RaHeim Moss) to take a one-point lead heading into the fourth.
Ani Elliot made a basket with 6:47 left in the third to put the Wildcats ahead 48-45, then Moss hit a 3 to increase the lead to 51-45.
“We were getting to the rim all night long, but we just weren’t finishing at a high level,” Carson said. “But the second half we got some finishes and starting making some free throws, so that helped out a lot.”
Sidney pulled within two points once and three points twice in the final two minutes but couldn’t finish a comeback try. Springfield hit 7-of-10 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to help secure the win, with David Sanford hitting 6-of-8.
The Yellow Jackets’ comeback attempt was hampered by missing a couple of inside shots, which was also a problem at earlier times for stretches in the game.
“We got pretty stale on the offensive end there towards the end of the third quarter, and a lot of that credit goes to Springfield,” Willoughby said. “We actually did take some punches and some elbows to the face; I don’t know what was going there. But overall I thought it was a very clean game.
“Both teams played it well, and there was good sportsmanship from players on both sides throughout the game, when it could have gotten carried away, especially with last year’s game carrying over into this year. I compliment both teams playing a well-played game.”
Sidney will lose six seniors to graduation, including Gordon, who signed to play collegiately with Virginia Tech last November. Gordon averaged 23 points, 5.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds in regular season.
Willoughby, who took over as the program’s coach three years ago, called Gordon the best player he’s ever coached. He also said he’s the best in the Dayton area this season and should have been named the Southwest district’s D-I player of the year.
“He’s been very welcoming of me since day one, as have all the seniors,” Willoughby said. “I’m so, so thankful for that part. Sometimes you can come in and not see eye-to-eye on things, and they can make trouble for you. But from day one, from our first meeting to our first open gym, they’ve been welcoming and very coachable. Our school and community can be very proud of those young men for how they are and how they act.”
Roberts and Hudgins are multiple-year starters, and senior guards Keith Lee and Jace Conrad are multiple-year varsity players. The Yellow Jackets will also lose Josh Hartlett to graduation.
Roberts owns the program’s career blocks record and averaged 10 points, 9.3 rebounds and a Greater Western Ohio Conference-best 4.4 blocks per game this season. Hudgins averaged 7.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game and was the team’s best defender according to Willoughby.
“I think the nicest thing this team had was the relationship with the community and the fans,” Willoughby said. “The fans coming out and supporting us has been great the last three years, and I know a lot of that is because of the seniors. I’m hoping that we still get that support, because our kids are going to need that the next several years.”
Springfield took an early 3-0 lead but Sidney scored the next six points. Sanford scored a basket to pull Springfield within one point with 3:21 left. Dominick Durr hit a basket shortly after, then Hudgins completed a three-point play to put Sidney ahead 11-5 with 2:14 left.
The teams traded points to a 13-7 score at the end of the first, then Gordon opened the second quarter with his first basket of the night to put the Yellow Jackets ahead 15-7.
The Wildcats quickly got back in it by scoring the next six points. Darren Taborn split a pair of free throws to increase Sidney’s lead to 16-13, but Springfield scored the next five.
Gordon hit a 3 from the left wing to put Sidney ahead 21-20 with 2:49 left, then Roberts made a basket with 2:11 left to push the lead to three points.
Hudgins made a 3 with 1:02 left to increase the lead to 28-22, but Jordan Howard made a 3 from the top of the key with 36 seconds left to cut the lead to three points at halftime.
“The first half, we just weren’t playing Wildcat basketball,” Carson said. “I thought we took some quick shots and couldn’t get in our groove. We’ve just got to come out and execute from the jump. We didn’t do that tonight, but we did that in the second half.”
Springfield (16-9) advances to play Cincinnati Elder in Div. I district final on Saturday at UD Arena. Elder beat Cincinnati Sycamore 56-42 in overtime in a sectional final on Saturday at Hamilton High School. A win would earn the Wildcats their fourth district title in the last five years.
“Their defense is tough; you just can’t get around that,” Willoughby said. “No matter if they were going to double Andre our play him single, they’re good defenders.”
Moss led Springfield with 18 points while Sanford finished with 15 and Stephens added 12.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.