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Springfield girls eager to get back on court

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

SPRINGFIELD TWP. In a year filled with plot twists and turns, a dose of irony to close out the year seems fitting.

Springfield's Leah Kern dribbles up the court during a recent game against Manchester.

Welcome to life for the Springfield girls basketball team, a squad that is fresh off one of its biggest wins in the past several seasons and would love to use the momentum from that win to charge into its next victory – if only COVID-19 would allow it.

The win was a 47-35 comeback victory over Field to open Metro Athletic Conference play, a game that saw the Spartans fall behind 12-2 after one quarter and outscore the Falcons 45-23 the rest of the way. It's the sort of triumph that should inject confidence and positive momentum into a team, but the pandemic had other ideas.

"The day after the game, we were put into quarantine," veteran head coach Kevin Pletcher said. "We're supposed to be able to get back into the gym on Dec. 23 and then we'll be making up two of three league games we've missed the next week."

Games against Norton and Ravenna are tentatively slated for the week after Christmas, with a game against Coventry in the process of being rescheduled. The Ravens are currently in quarantine as well, but Pletcher is hopeful both teams will be back in action by the time the game rolls around.

Opening league play with a win hasn't happened often in recent years for Springfield, which has battled through a few winless league campaigns during the past decade. It was the sort of breakthrough victory Pletcher spoke about prior to the season, one that could help the Spartans realize they could compete with the better teams on their schedule.

One game prior to the Field contest, it appeared Springfield was on the verge of another such win against a solid Manchester program that has been one of the more consistent small-school programs in the area over the years. A four-point halftime lead saw the Spartans hold the Panthers to just 14 points in the opening half, offering hope for a victory to even the season record at 1-1.

Instead, Manchester turned up the full-court pressure in the second half and was able to rally for a win to drop Springfield to 0-2. A similar story unfolded in the season opener, when Canton Central Catholic used a big third quarter to deny the Spartans their first win.

With those two games as they prelude, the slow first quarter against Field could easily have led the Spartans to lose confidence, but the opposite seemed to happen.

"It's especially encouraging after the first quarter being sluggish and cold scoring-wise," Pletcher said of the comeback. "It's good for the girls to be able to get that win and to have double digit scoring in the second, third and fourth quarters is a confidence booster for us."

The turnaround hinged on a few different factors, one of which was an in-game adjustment that saw Springfield shift from a zone defense to full-court, man-to-man pressure designed to harass Field's guards and create turnovers while also keeping the Falcons from getting the ball to the post, where their best scorers could do damage.

The pressure created turnovers and easy scoring chances that got the Spartans going, perhaps no one more so than senior forward Alexis Martin, who tallied a game-high 18 points, including two 3-pointers and six steals. With one starter out due to illness, Martin stepped up her game and helped fuel the offense.

"I know she was able to get to the basket, she was able to hit 4 of 6 from the free throw line, had six steals and found her range shooting the ball," Pletcher said. "She started to get her rhythm and hit her shots. Alexis has put a lot of time into basketball and she has improved tremendously from being a freshman playing JV ball to starting this year."

Another encouraging aspect of the win was being able to work more players into the rotation and have them contribute to the team's overall success, creating depth that will be beneficial going forward. Not being able to immediately capitalize on the win by getting back onto the court and trying to build a winning streak is disappointing, but for now the Spartans have to hope that they can stay sharp working out and doing whatever skill work they're able to do on their own.

That, plus a chance to get extra rest and recover from any minor bumps, bruises and injuries they may be dealing with, could be positives to emerge from their two-week hiatus. The belief, according to Pletcher, is that if they can take care of the basketball and be consistent making good shots when they find them, the wins will follow. Putting that philosophy to the test won't happen until after Christmas, when games can resume, so for now, the following up on that first victory is a wait-and-see endeavor.