By John Bombatch
SPRINGBORO — The Xenia Buccaneers may not have wanted a repeat of their previous game, but that’s exactly what they got.
Like the Springfield loss earlier in the week, Xenia was out-muscled inside by a taller, bigger Springboro team.
Also like earlier this week, Xenia couldn’t seem to hit a free throw when they needed them.
As a result, Springboro claimed a big 61-54 win Friday night to vault themselves into sole possession of first place in the Greater Western Ohio Conference’s South Division.
“The same thing happened,” said Xenia head coach Kent Anderson. “We got beat on the boards again, and we didn’t shoot free throws particularly well, either. I thought we, at times, defended better in the second half, but we’re awfully stagnant on offense. We’ve got to figure out a way to get ourselves going on offense.”
Six-foot-six forward Nick “Pickle” Pluta scored a career-high 16 points for Springboro (9-2, 3-0 GWOC South), senior Drew Holweger was a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to also finish with 16 points, and 6-6 center Justin Rigg tossed in 14 points.
Meanwhile, the Bucs struggled to find an open shot, especially inside. And when they were able to get to the free-throw line, they seldom connected. In the fourth quarter, Xenia had 11 tries at the charity stripe, but could hit just four of them.
“We’ve just gotta get better. There’s a reason Springboro is 8-2 and 3-0 in the league. They’ve got a good basketball team, with a combination of good guard play and scoring ability inside. They’re bigger than we are, but that’s no excuse. We’re just going to have to get better,” Anderson said.
Freshman sharpshooter Samari Curtis led Xenia (7-3, 2-1 GWOC South) with 16 points while Ray James finished with 14, Rocky James added nine, and Ryan Johnson tossed in seven.
Xenia was able to get to within two points of Springboro (50-48) with 2:30 left to play. That’s when Ray James drove in to score from the right side, but Springboro outscored the Bucs 11-6 the rest of the way.
The first half saw both squads trade the lead eight times before the host Panthers went on a 7-2 run over the final 1:23 of the second quarter to take a 31-24 lead at the break.
“Justin (Rigg) and ‘Pickle’ (Nick Pluta) were able to get good position inside, and I really think that was the difference tonight. They both had good games and we needed it, especially against Xenia’s athleticism,” Springboro coach Michael Holweger said. “And I thought our guards did a nice job of recognizing that, and getting them the basketball.”
A year ago, in Xenia’s division-winning season, the Buccaneers had split the home-and-home series with Springboro, both teams winning on their home courts. Xenia won in the Blue Pit by an 88-74 score; Springboro won by a point (52-51) at their place.
Both teams are back in action for non-league contests on Tuesday. Xenia will host Kettering Fairmont, while Springboro will host Fairfield.
In junior varsity action, Springboro defeated Xenia by a 56-42 score.