SALEM - Springfield coach Eric Fender wouldn't have wanted anybody at the free-throw line at the end of the game more than Ronnie Rogers.
That is exactly what he got.
Rogers sank four free throws in the final minute to ice the game for the Tigers, who were able to hold off a valiant comeback by South Range, leaving the Division III semifinal with a 56-52 victory at Salem High School.
The Tigers will meet Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas in the final on?Friday. The Knights beat Crestview, 65-42, in Tuesday's other semifinal.
"Ronnie has been our best player all year," Fender said. "He has been our most consistent; he's been our best shooter. When the game came on the line we wanted to get him the basketball and we were either going to win with him or lose it with him."
Rogers finished with 24 points was 11 for 11 at the foul line. He said shooting free throws with the game on the line definitely has a different vibe to it.
"I just stepped up and knew I had to make them," Rogers said. "So I knocked them down."
The Tigers held a 10-point lead in the third quarter until the Raiders were able to make a run and grab the lead. Brandon Pluchinsky was the catalyst in the run, making back-to-back 3-pointers.
Pluchinsky led the Raiders with 15 points.
"When he makes one, he can get hot and he can make one or two more," Rogers said. "That's what he did."
Fender said his team had to fight through the run and stay calm.
"We lost our heads a little bit for a while, but in the end we figured out what we had to do and we calmed ourselves down and kept fighting,"?he said.
South Range coach Dave Purins said after getting into an early deficit, he knew his team had it in them to battle back.
"Some shots weren't falling for us and they are a skilled team and opened up a lead on us," Purins said. "Our kids have scrapped and battled all year. They hustled in there and we found something that was working; got the ball moving a little bit, got some open shots and got them to fall."
Rogers said when Pluchinsky gets going, there isn't much they could do.
"We had to box out and limit them to one shot," Rogers said. "We just had to come back and score down on our side."
Although these teams are rivals, both teams came out a bit sloppy to start. Each coach credited his team's nerves.
"It is a big rivalry and it meant a lot to both schools," Fender said. "So I think the kids had to find their nerves a little bit and just get down to playing basketball."
Purins said even with the each team being senior-laden, it took a few minutes for them to get into a groove.
"Things settled down quickly and had a good first quarter and a pretty good battle in the first half," Purins said. "I think one of the biggest things for us was our shots weren't falling for us."
Fender said it didn't matter this game wasn't for the district title, they are just happy to win.
"They are a great team. Every game has been very competitive and that is all you can ask for in a rivalry," Fender said. "But we are happy to play them wherever, whenever."
Rogers said the Tigers have another goal.
"We are just happy to get the win," Rogers said. "Now we will move on and look forward to Friday."