SPRINGFIELD TWP. Most high school athletes don’t view sports as a place that’s all about learning.
As much as they need to grasp schemes, game plans and assignments on the field of play, sports are typically thought of as a place to have fun, compete and vie for championships alongside friends and teammates.
But sports bring plenty of lessons with them - at least one of the non-classroom variety - and the Springfield girls basketball team has taken in plenty of them this season.
With a 3-19 record and 1-11 mark in Portage Trail Conference play to begin the season, the Spartans haven’t gotten where they hoped to be this season, but not for lack of effort and close calls. Head coach Kevin Pletcher has seen his team lead in several games only to have an opponent rally late and wrestle a win away.
"I think it’s tough. We’ve had quite a few games where we were very, very close to winning," Pletcher said, the emotion clear in his voice. "If couple of things go differently or if a ball bounces our way, we would have a couple more league wins."
Pletcher cited the Streetsboro game last month as one example. Springfield led the game all the way into the fourth quarter, only to see the Rockets stage a comeback in the closing minutes and win by six. Add in an overtime loss to North, a five-point loss to East and nine-point losses to Woodridge and Field that were close going into the final minutes and it’s safe to say that heartbreak has made itself at home at Springfield this winter.
A welcome respite from that trend came last week, when the Spartans gutted out a 54-53 triumph over Field, gaining a measure of revenge on the Falcons for the defeat earlier this season and scoring their first PTC win of the season in the process.
"You feel bad for the girls because they want to win so badly," Pletcher said. "They could could have packed it in in January, but they continue to work hard with whatever they do. Hopefully, it’s a good life lesson that you never give up and you keep fighting."
That lesson isn’t easy to accept for anyone, let alone a group of high school athletes who want to help turn around a program that built to six wins last season and was looking to increase that total this season.
Perhaps no group feels those emotions more than the team’s four seniors, who have gone through coaching changes, winless league seasons and plenty of changes. Alongside those seniors are three sophomores and a freshman who are receiving substantial playing time with the hope that their development can boost the Spartans going forward.
The lesson that remains a work in progress, as evidenced by the Streetsboro contest, is how to close out games. Building a lead is good, but being able to protect it when an opponent throws everything in its arsenal at you is something teams must learn how to do.
It’s often a process marked by setbacks and although a win over Rootstown earlier in the season suggested that Springfield was progressing in its understanding of how to close out games, the team hasn’t been able to consistently repeat that type of performance just yet.
"When we’re in a tight game, we’re working on understanding what needs to be done at the tail end of games and that’s still us maturing and growing," Pletcher said. "They’ve matured a lot … our first game of the new year, Rootstown came back but we beat them by three and that was a game ahead were able to close out. We did grow up then and I thought it would trickle into (winning) more games … we take good shots, but I think we miss shots were should be hitting like layups and free throws late in games. We have to be better defensively and play the whole game."
At times, coming up just short can also cause players to press and try to do too much, which is something against which the coaching staff has cautioned. The will to win is in place, so the Spartans now have to match that willpower with the execution needed to finish out games successfully.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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