By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — After Saturday’s tournament opener, Troy girls basketball coach Aaron Johnson didn’t reflect much on the game his team had just lost.
All he could think about was the people, the four seniors, that he was losing.
“This is just such a tough group to say goodbye to,” the second-year coach said of his senior class of Alaura Holycross, Jordan Short, Valena Robinson and Dana Wynkoop. “That’s what matters to me. I’d assume, at some point, that we were going to lose a tournament game. I just didn’t think it was going to happen on February 17. But the way my young ladies played, I think they left everything they had out there.”
In the end, the Trojans could not get revenge on a Springfield team that had defeated them during the regular season as the No. 10 Wildcats let the lead slip away only briefly in the fourth quarter and answered every run the Trojans made, defeating No. 11 Troy 52-41 in the opening round of the Division I sectional tournament Saturday at Butler High School.
Springfield (11-12), which defeated Troy 32-29 back on Jan. 13, moves on to face No. 4 Wayne Wednesday night in the second round. The Trojans, meanwhile, finished the year 12-11 — the program’s first winning season since going 12-11 during the 2012-13 campaign. And after Troy won its first postseason game since the 2010-11 season during Johnson’s first season with the team last year, it was just another important step forward for the team.
And one that wouldn’t have been possible without the four seniors.
“I told the girls to walk out of this gym with their heads held up high,” Johnson said. “The first winning season in five years, we went from 5-10 in the division to 9-6, beating Butler (ending an eight-game losing streak to the Aviators). There’s just so many accomplishments for these young ladies. They’re not going to get it today — maybe some time next week it’ll actually sink in what they’ve accomplished.
“But those four seniors, I told them I want them to come back in a year or two and we’ll have won a division title or a sectional championship, and they can say ‘we started this. This began with us, and look what it is now.’”
Saturday night, though, some of the Trojans’ tendencies from earlier in the season came back to haunt them.
Troy turned the ball over 20 times in the game — 10 in the first half to allow Springfield to grab a 23-18 lead at the half, and 10 more after the break, often in key moments that could have turned the tide in the Trojans’ favor. And even though both teams struggled from the free throw line in the game, Troy was 5 for 17 on the night, while the Wildcats ended up going 14 for 23, hitting 9 of 12 in the fourth quarter when it mattered most after the Trojans were forced to foul.
“The girls battled. They competed. They never quit,” Johnson said. “They’ve worked their tails off all year. I think we just kind of ran out of gas. There’s just something about that pressure and speed that we couldn’t overcome. Springfield is athletic, they made us play at their pace, and they took us out of what we do.”
Even with the Wildacts leading the majority of the game, though, Troy was never out of it. The Trojans cut Springfield’s lead to one twice in the second quarter, only to have the Wildcats capitalize on some late turnovers to make it a five-point game at the half. And even though Troy trailed by as many as seven at 27-20 in the third, a bucket and a free throw by Holycross, a layup by MaKenna Taylor and a score in the paint by Tia Bass tied the score at 27-27 with 1:35 to go in the quarter.
A backdoor layup by Springfield’s Caralyssa Byrd followed by two Troy turnovers that led to three free throws by Mickayla Perdue, though, gave the Wildcats a 32-27 lead heading into the final quarter.
“I thought ‘here we go,’” Johnson said when asked about his team tying the score. “It’s one of those things I’ve become accustomed to us doing. But a turnover here, a missed shot there, a bad play here and there — some of the things that we haven’t done in a while — that took a little bit of the wind out of our sails.”
The wind remained swirling the rest of the way.
The Wildcats led 37-33 early in the fourth quarter, and Troy missed a pair of free throws. Robinson got the offensive rebound, though, and Holycross found Taylor open for 3 to cut the deficit to one with 4:45 remaining. Troy got another stop on defense, and Robinson made a tough entry pass in to Bass for a go-ahead basket, putting Troy up for the first time in the game at 38-37 with 4:16 to play.
Perdue — a freshman and the second-leading scorer in the Greater Western Ohio Conference at 22.0 points per game coming in — answered by knocking down a 3 to put Springfield back on top, though, then Byrd stole the ball and took it in for a layup to make it 42-38 Wildcats. From there, the closest the Trojans got was three.
“We’d get the momentum, then we’d lose it,” Johnson said. “Then we’d get it again and lose it, then we’d try to get it again and there was never that crescendo at the end.”
Perdue led all scorers with 19 points for Springfield, Byrd added 14 points and seven rebounds, Naomi Hoofkin had nine points and seven rebounds, Destiny Wells had three points, Julona Martin and Jasmine Williams each had two and Makayla DeArmond had one.
Bass, a sophomore, led the Trojans with 16 points and eight rebounds, with Taylor also reaching double figures at 10 points. Holycross had five points and seven rebounds, Short had five points, Kiyha Adkins had two points, six rebounds and three assists, Laura Borchers had two points and Robinson had one point.
“I told the girls that that’s the good and bad thing about the tournament — there’s only one team that’s going to walk out of it without a loss,” Johnson said. “Ours just came a little sooner than we were hoping. But the girls never quit. They never quit, and that just speaks to their character and who they are as young ladies.”
Which, for Johnson, makes saying goodbye to four of them that much harder.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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