Bobbi Berger

Danville senior Bobbi Berger hoists the net after beating Fairfield Christian Academy for the district title on Feb. 29, 2020.

COLUMBUS – The last time Danville played for a district title, life was different for Bobbi Berger.

She was a freshman on a 20-win team that would fall one game short of a state semifinal berth. She didn’t play much when Danville took down Granville Christian in the district final – she was more of a role player, part of a promising freshman class that brought new life to the program.

This time around, her role was much different.

Berger anchored a stunning Blue Devil beatdown of Fairfield Christian Academy at Ohio Dominican University on Saturday night. The senior forward scored 12 points in the third quarter (and 18 total) to lead Danville to a 50-42 victory.

Afterwards, she was given the honorary duty of cutting the final pieces of the net – a task typically reserved for the game’s MVP.

Quite a different experience from four years ago, Berger acknowledged.

“I mean, it felt good then,” she said of her freshman year. “But now it feels really good.”

The win Saturday night marked Danville’s second district title in four years. The Blue Devils will play Fort Loramie in the Div. IV regional semifinals on Thursday at 6:15 p.m. at Vandalia-Butler High School.

Fort Loramie has won two state titles in the last decade (2013 and 2015), and has made it to the state semifinals six times since 2006. The Redskins are led by legendary head coach Carla Siegel, who earned her 400th career win last season and has coached at Fort Loramie for 21 years.

The Redskins (24-0) are ranked first in the Div. IV AP state poll; they won their third straight district title on Saturday by pulling away from Franklin-Monroe, 40-26.

As for Danville, the Blue Devils did it with their usual one-two punch: stingy defense and second-chance points. And a heavy dose of Berger.

Danville led by just 2 points at halftime, 19-17, and Berger said she felt compelled to make her mark coming out of the locker room. The senior proceeded to score a dozen points in the period, as she finished at the rim and knocked down threes. Her and-one transition lay-in with 5:36 left brought the crowd to its feet.

“I just knew that we weren’t up by much,” Berger said afterwards. “We needed to come out with the fire and get ahead in the third quarter, and then finish in the fourth.”

The Blue Devils outscored the Knights 20-5 in the third quarter, and that made all the difference.

"We talked a little bit at halftime and just said, ‘Hey, quit thinking so much. Just play basketball. You can do this,'" Danville coach Matt Proper said. "And you saw that from the get-go. I think we went back to what we do – attacking the paint and playing defense – and I think they did a great job.”

Danville’s main focus defensively on Saturday was stopping Fairfield Christian senior Hope Custer, the school’s all-time leading scorer who recently passed the career 1,700-point mark. Custer, an athletic wing who can shoot and beat defenders off the bounce, presented a unique challenge for Proper’s club.

But the coach knew where to turn. He put sophomore Brooklyn Hess, a rangy point guard with quick feet, on Custer from the jump. She made it difficult for the senior all night long.

“Brooklyn got a touch on the ball a lot when she shot and was giving her all kinds of crap when she tried to shoot,” senior forward CeCe Newbold said. “That was really the gameplan, try to stop her… and I think Brooklyn did a good job doing that.”

While Custer still managed to pour in 27 points (most came in the fourth quarter), it was by no means an easy 27. Hess used her length to deter Custer’s mid-range shots, and she kept her off the boards as well.

“You could tell she was kind of pushing the ball up a little bit, trying to get it over Brooklyn,” Proper said. “For as much attention as we gave her, she still had 27. She’s a great ballplayer. And she wanted it bad, too. We just happened to have a little more at the end.”

Before Berger’s third-quarter rampage, it was sophomore guard Alenah Boeshart who jump-started Danville early.

Boeshart, the smallest player on the floor at times, collected several offensive rebounds in the first half to give Danville second-chance opportunities. She scored 6 of her 8 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter, as Danville executed a 9-0 run to take the lead.

Boeshart’s wing three with 1:14 left until halftime put the Blue Devils up 19-14, bringing the blue-and-white crowd to life.

“I think she just started to get in her comfort zone and be more confident, and really came into gear,” Berger said of the sophomore.

After a helter-skelter first quarter, where both teams had turnover problems against each other’s presses, Danville settled in. The Blue Devils slowed down and seized the opportunity. They never looked back.

“I think we kind of tried to calm down and not rush everything. I feel like we were rushing everything and there was no reason to,” Newbold said. “So we kind of stepped back and really focused on our game, and it went well for us. We hit some shots.”

The third quarter was Danville at its peak. The Blue Devils punished Fairfield Christian on the offensive glass, at times collecting two or three rebounds per possession. Those second-chance opportunities were turned into points, which killed any momentum the Knights hoped to gain out of the locker room.

“One of our goals was to definitely dominate the boards, and I think we did that,” said Newbold, who had a team-high 18 rebounds. “A key component of our offense is that all five people can score, and everyone has the green light. A lot of teams aren’t like that, and I think that really is what helps us through these wins.”

Danville led by 15 after three quarters and held steady in the fourth. While Fairfield Christian cut the lead to 8 with 2:49 remaining, the Blue Devils knocked down free throws and recorded defensive stops late to put the game out of reach.

After Danville hoisted the trophy and cut down the net on Saturday, Proper reflected on what it took to get to this point. He went back to the team’s senior class, which has provided key leadership during this postseason run.

“Most teams set those two goals – you want to win the league and you want to win a district championship – and not very many get the opportunity. So it goes to the seniors; they worked hard and they earned it,” Proper said.

“I think a lot of these championships are actually won during the offseason, and they dedicated their time to committing time to the game. They did it together.”

That senior class includes players like Newbold and Berger, who both believed early on they could beat Fairfield Christian Academy, despite having lost to the Knights by 35 points in the district semifinals a year ago. Berger said the team’s seniors preached confidence heading into Saturday night's game, and it stuck.

“We just needed to understand that we are completely capable of winning,” Berger said. “Last year they were good, but they also lost one of their best players, and we needed to understand that we could dominate if we just came in and played our basketball.”

After two hard-fought district victories this week, the Blue Devils will have a few days to rest. They’ll head west on Thursday to play the state's top-ranked team.

A challenge, sure – but one Danville is eager to face.

“It’s all mindset,” Proper said. “You’ve gotta believe in what we’re trying to accomplish and I think we can do that. I think we have the firepower on offense and I think we have the attitude and effort to get it done on defense. Every team gets a little tougher from here on out, so we’ll see. But we’re excited to keep playing.”

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.