SPRINGFIELD — The same team that had upended Carroll in the postseason a year ago, got off to a strong start and a 3-0 lead in Friday’s March 8 Division II regional title game at Springfield High School.
Um, let’s just say the Patriots responded to Franklin’s opening jab with a flurry of their own punches. Carroll (25-2) reeled off a 17-0 scoring flourish for the remaining 6:30 of the opening quarter and held the lead the rest of the way for a 57-43 win.
“We tried to prepare them as best we could, and the team executed both offensively and defensively. I’m so proud of them and how hard they worked to get to the Final Four,” Carroll coach Cecilia Grosselin said, moments after cutting down the net in a raucous celebration with her team and the Patriots fans.
Grosselin smiled, but deflected talk of winning two more games and bringing a state championship trophy home, saying that the players still need to work hard for everything they get.
Carroll gave a very workmanlike effort against Franklin (24-4) in this one. Junior center Julia Keller scored eight of her team-best 18 points in the first half, and wasn’t about to let up.
“It was a great feeling,” Keller said. “We came out, we were firing and making all of our shots. We got a good lead and played as hard as we could for the entire game. It’s like the greatest feeling, ever.”
Keller said Franklin’s triple overtime win over the Patriots last season was in her head, especially in Friday’s fourth quarter when the Wildcats got within 12 points (32-44) with 6:46 yet to play.
“We knew that we couldn’t let them come back, especially after last time,” Keller said. “So we gave it our all, and came out with the win.”
Joining Keller in double-figure scoring for Carroll were the guard tandem of Ava Lickliter (12 points) and Allie Stefanek (11 points). Lickliter said the chemistry between her and Stefanek paid off on the scoreboard Friday night.
“Me and Allie have played together for a long time, so we have a lot of chemistry together, and it really helps when we are on the court together,” Lickliter said. “… (Franklin) beat us last year at districts, so our confidence wasn’t 100 percent. When Julia got into foul trouble, I just told the team to stay calm that we got this. We just stayed calm and got us the win.”
Veteran coach John Rossi, Jr. came away impressed with Carroll.
“Carroll played extremely well. They shot the ball extremely well. We went up 3-0 and they respond with a 17-0 run. It was kind of a whitewash from there, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Give them credit. They outplayed us today, but that’s not going to take anything away from the season we had. I’m extremely proud of our program, and our four seniors (Emma Bicknell, Skyler Weir, Layne Ferrell, and Emily Newton).
“It hurts us all, but give Carroll credit. They were the better team today.”
Ferrell led all scorers with 21 points, and sophomore guard Jordan Rogers finished with eight to lead the Wildcats.
Rossi thinks Carroll could win the title.
“As well as they played tonight, and as well as they shot it, they’re gonna be a hard out, to tell you the truth,” he said.
Carroll, ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press regular season coaches poll, will head to Columbus’s Schottenstein Center to take on unranked Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (18-9) in the Division II state semifinal game, at 6 p.m. March 14.
SVSM upset previously undefeated and co-regular season No.1 Poland Seminary on Friday night to advance.
Toledo Rogers (No. 4 in the final poll) and Thornville Sheridan (No. 5) are the other two teams headed to the state Final Four, and will play at 8 p.m. that same day.
The state championship game will then take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, also at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center.
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.