The two Division I boys basketball sectional finals at Central Catholic’s Sullivan Center could not have been played in greater contrast.
In the opener, fifth-ranked St. John’s Jesuit made short work of struggling rival St. Francis de Sales in an 84-36 blowout that was over almost from the outset.
The second semifinal, however, went right down to the wire in Springfield’s upset bid against 10th-ranked Whitmer. In fact, if the Blue Devils had about one more second on the clock, they would have knocked off the 2012 state runners-up instead of falling 48-46.
Trailing 46-33 with 2:40 remaining after a bucket by Panthers guard Chris Parker, Springfield (15-8) staged a furious rally against the reeling Panthers (18-5), who missed six of their eight free-throw attempts in the final 2:40 to give the Devils life.
When Dilyn Good nailed a 3-pointer to pull Springfield within 48-46 with 22 seconds left, Springfield immediately yelled for a timeout.
But the game clock read 17.8 seconds by the time the timeout was granted, which would become an important factor at the end.
The Blue Devils then fouled Whitmer’s Nigel Hayes with 7.8 seconds to go, and Hayes ultimately missed both ends of the double-bonus chance.
Springfield’s Logan Weimer rebounded, the Devils got the ball down to Good in 3-point range in front of their bench, and Good let it fly.
PHOTO GALLERY: Whitmer holds off Springfield's bid for upset
PHOTO GALLERY: Titans top Knights in sectional hoops
Parker became the hero for Whitmer, blocking the ball while sailing by. Good grabbed the rebound and quickly fired again, this time netting the would-be game-winning 3-pointer, but the shot came just after the final buzzer, and Whitmer lived to play another night.
“Obviously, we were fortunate,” Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. “I’m going to accentuate the positive. For 29 minutes, we were pretty good. We were up on them by 13 points with three minutes to go, heading toward the double bonus, and life is good.
“For some reason then, we’ve got kids who never take the ball out of bounds taking it out and turning it over. And we’re just awful from the free-throw line.”
The Panthers will face ninth-ranked Central Catholic (18-5) in the 8 p.m. district semifinal Thursday at Savage Arena. St. John’s (20-3) takes on Rogers (16-7) in the 6:15 p.m. semifinal there.
“We wanted to push the ball up the floor,” Springfield coach Stan Joplin said of the last possession. “The mindset was, if [Hayes] missed, go for two. But we went for the 3, the shot got blocked, and we just ran out of time.
“We came up a little bit short. We needed maybe one or two more seconds, but that’s the way it goes. At least the guys came back. They could’ve packed up their tents and went home, but they didn’t. They hung in there, and I’m very proud of the way they came back.”
Such late-game drama in Friday’s second contest didn’t seem to be in the cards after Whitmer used a decisive 17-8 third quarter to break from a 22-18 halftime edge and take a comfortable 39-26 advantage to the final period.
Panthers senior guard Ricardo Smith did much of that damage, scoring 11 of his game-high 16 points in the third.
Whitmer, which was sturdy defensively throughout much of the game, yielding just 33 points over the first 29-plus minutes, broke down a bit during the Springfield rally.
Devils guard Marquan Hodges scored seven of his team-high 13 points in the final 2:23, including a 5-for-6 effort at the foul line. After Markese Hicks’ 3-pointer pulled Springfield within 46-36 with 2:27 left, Hodges’ surge got them within 47-43 with 1:03 to play.
Smith hit one of two free throws for Whitmer’s final point with 42.5 seconds left.
“There’s nothing you can do [on Springfield’s last shot chance],” coach Smith said. “You hope they dribble it off their leg, or that the ball doesn’t go in.
“When Chris blocked the shot, I was fearful of hearing a whistle and [Springfield getting] three free throws with a heck of a shooter. Fortunately he missed, and we win, and we’re advancing.”
Whitmer was 18 of 39 (46 percent) from the field, just 10 for 22 at the line, and was outrebounded 36-28 by the Devils. Hayes had nine points and 10 rebounds, and Luke Hickey added nine points for the Panthers.
Springfield was 16 of 48 (33 percent) from the field and 10 of 16 from the line. The Devils got eight points and 10 rebounds from both Good and Weimer.
In the earlier sectional final, St. John’s forced an overmatched St. Francis squad into 33 total turnovers and limited the Knights to just five first-half field-goal attempts while building a 32-8 halftime lead.
St. Francis, using a deliberate offensive scheme and a hustling defensive effort early on, was within 10-6 late in the first quarter. But the Knights (4-20) made few strides in executing any offense against the Titans until garbage time in the fourth quarter.
Anthony Glover topped St. John’s with 12 points, Marc Loving had 11, and Tyler Thompson and Trevor Walsh added nine apiece as all 15 Titans scored.
“We came out and played hard, and they had a good strategy to spread the floor and hold the ball,” St. John’s coach Ed Heintschel said. “It worked for a while, and then we were just able to wear them down a little bit. The Knights gave great effort.
“In the second half, we just wanted to keep playing hard. Nothing fancy. You just want to keep winning, whether it’s by one or 10 or more.”
St. Francis, which had 13 players score, was paced by six points apiece from Lamar Carswell and Patrick Szenderski.
St. John’s was 29 of 48 (60 percent) from the field, 20 of 29 at the line, and outrebounded the Knights 29-18.
St. Francis was 13 of 32 (40 percent) from the field and 10 of 17 at the line.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.