COPLEY _ All the heart and guts and courage in the world couldn't save the Kent Roosevelt Rough Riders from an 0-21 season.
But it almost did.
Down by 16 points less than halfway through the fourth quarter, the Rough Riders rallied to within three with a minute to play before falling to Akron Springfield 72-65 in a Copley Division I sectional semifinal Wednesday night.
The Spartans sank 10 free throws in the fourth period, including five in the final minute, to hold off the determined rally.
Springfield (7-14) will play Stow in a sectional final Saturday at 8 p.m. The Bulldogs outlasted Akron Firestone 50-48 in overtime in Wednesday's first game.
Roosevelt coach Tom Larkin pointed to his team's comeback as symbolic of its character throughout the campaign.
"That just typifies the season," said Larkin. "Several images from this season will stick in my mind, but there are two that really stick out. This game is one of them. We were down by 16 in the fourth quarter and it looked like it was over, and a lot of teams would have folded at that point. But we came back and got it down to three late in the game.
"The other is when we were at Hudson. We were 0-9 at the time and down by 28 with four seconds to go. There was a loose ball at halfcourt and we had two kids dive after it. These kids have shown a lot of character all season."
Wednesday night was no different.
After two ties and three lead changes, the Rough Riders led 18-13 heading into the second quarter. Then a layup by junior forward Troy Burrell (12 points) to start the second period gave the Rough Riders a 20-13 lead.
But a 10-0 Springfield run, including a three-point play by junior guard David Rodgers (11 points) and 3-pointers by senior forward Brian Morrison (17 points, 8 rebounds) and senior point guard Chip Woods (13 points), put the Spartans up 27-22 with 5:23 left in the half.
A 3-point goal by senior guard Matt Smith, who had game-highs of 30 points and 11 rebounds, halted the run and started the Rough Riders on their way to a 35-33 halftime lead.
Smith started the third period with another 3-point bomb, then his short jumper put Roosevelt up 42-35 and the Rough Riders seemed primed to take control of the game.
But then it happened.
The Spartans suddenly could do no wrong, exploding on a decisive 17-0 run _ including 3-pointers by Morrison and Rodgers _ to grab a 52-42 lead. They eventually carried a 56-46 advantage into the final quarter.
"Offensively, we didn't make very good decisions during that run," said Larkin. "We were breaking their pressure, but we weren't knocking down our jumpers in transition.
"Defensively, we played a little tentatively during that stretch. We just weren't aggressive. But once we changed that, you saw what happened at the end of the game."
A three-point play by Rodgers pushed the margin to 64-48 not quite midway through the fourth, and it seemed as if the Rough Riders' 21st loss was in the books.
But they had other ideas.
Smith converted a three-point play to make it 64-51, then he did it again to cut the deficit to 67-56.
That started an 11-0 run that was culminated by another Smith 3-pointer and two jumpers by sophomore forward Jason Coleman, the latter of which pulled the Rough Riders within 67-64 with 58 seconds left in the game.
The shellshocked Spartans appeared on the verge of disintegration in the face of the tenacious Roosevelt comeback. Somehow, though, they hung on.
Two free throws by Woods and one by Morrison pushed the lead to 70-64, and a free throw by Smith made it 70-65. Rodgers then sank two foul shots for the final margin.
"I told our kids it's easy to play as a team and play hard when you're winning and everything's going well," said Larkin. "But it's a lot harder when you have the kind of season we had. But we always played together and played hard, and there never was any finger-pointing.
"People who just look at our record and see that we went 0-21 don't know what kind of team we really had. The people who showed up realize we had a team that always played hard and played with a lot of pride, and I think we proved that tonight."
Copley Division I Sectional Tournament
Akron Springfield 72, Kent Roosevelt 65
(at Copley High School)
KENT ROOSEVELT (65) _ Matt Kane 2 4-4 8; Matt Smith 10 5-6 30; Matt Milcetich 0 0-0 0; Jason Coleman 3 0-0 6; Pat Smith 2 0-0 4; Troy Burrell 5 2-2 12; David Mentlow 2 1-2 5; Thad Bzomowski 0 0-0 0; Paul Lutz 0 0-0 0; Sam Moore 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 12-14 65.
SPRINGFIELD (72) _ Chip Woods 3 5-6 13; David Rodgers 3 4-6 11; Eric Morgan 4 0-0 8; Josh Lockhart 3 0-0 6; Brian Morrison 5 5-8 17; Howard Curry 1 1-2 3; Jayson Pemberton 2 2-3 6; Dustin Andrick 4 0-2 8. Totals 25 17-27 72.
KENT ROOSEVELT 18 17 11 19 _ 65
AKRON SPRINGFIELD 13 20 23 16 _ 72
Three-point goals _ Kent Roosevelt (5-19): Kane 0-2; M. Smith 5-13; Milcetich 0-1; Burrell 0-3. Akron Springfield (5-18): Woods 2-8; Rodgers 1-5; Morrison 2-5.
Total fouls _ Kent Roosevelt, 21-14.
Total rebounds _ Kent Roosevelt, 45-34.
Total turnovers _ Kent Roosevelt, 25-14.