The Jackson Center Tigers survived a few last minute glitches, and three missed free throws down the stretch, to get past Cincinnati Christian and win their second straight district title.
Dayton – The Jackson Center Tigers have built a season around winning close games.
Seven of their 18 regular season wins were by five points or less, and the Tigers won a sectional title by 2 points last week against Fairlawn.
Wednesday night, they used that familiar script to win the ninth district title in school history.
Junior Brady Wildermuth scored 20 of his game high 28 points in the second half before fouling out with 55 seconds remaining to lead the Tigers to a heart-pounding 46-43 win over Cincinnati Christian at UD Arena. It’s the Tigers second straight district title and the fourth in five years for the proud community in northern Shelby County.
“Yeah, that’s a good thing,” said Tigers coach Scott Elchert after winning his fifth district title at the school. “We feel awfully blessed to have won four of the last five down here. It’s always a challenge to get out of the Piqua sectional, and it’s an accomplishment whenever you do that. Obviously getting to the sweet 16 is great, and I’m very happy for the kids.”
Jackson’s defensive intensity seemed to befuddle the Cougars early, as they managed just one basket and a free throw in the first 8 minutes. After trailing 10-3 in the opening minute of the second quarter, the Cougars got the pace up to their liking, making three three-pointers and finishing the half on a 15-6 run to lead 18-16 at the break.
“We knew they had some shooters,” Elchert explained. “We got up early, but we just didn’t execute well in the first half. I felt like we rushed some shots early and needed to get more inside touches. The kids made a good adjustment in the second half and made sure we got post touches before we took perimeter jumpers.”
The Cougars held a 24-21 lead midway through the third quarter, but Wildermuth went to work inside, scoring ten points in the period. Drew Sosby added his second three of the night, and the Tigers had a 31-28 lead after three.
On the night, there were 8 ties and the lead changed hands 12 times. Josh Oates hit a three to give the Cougars a 37-36 lead with 3:05 to play, but that was the last time they saw the lead.
Wildermuth hit a pair of free throws to give Jackson the lead for good, Sosby hit two from the line, and Wildermuth added two more from the stripe to give Jackson a seemingly comfortable 42-37 lead with 1:41 left.
As it turned out, the lead was anything but comfortable.
Ethan Zorn scored his first two points of the night from the line with 53 seconds left, and the Tigers led by 6. Nathan Grammel made one of two free throws for the Cougars, then buried a three from the right wing after a Tiger turnover, and suddenly it was 45-43 with 24 seconds still on the clock.
Jackson Center made 15 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter, but missed three straight in the final 13 seconds. The Cougars DeJuan Ringer misfired on a three with 4 seconds left, and after Zorn made 1 of 2 free throws, Dylan Woods game tying attempt from about 25 feet was off the mark at the buzzer.
“We pride ourselves on shooting free throws,” Elchert said. “And they were huge for us tonight. We count on shooting free throws well, and we made enough tonight to hang on.”
Wildermuth, you might say, had a pretty good night. The 6-6 junior was 8 of 12 from the floor, 12 for 15 at the line, with 6 rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Sosby added 11 for the Tigers, who went 0-8 from the floor in the fourth quarter, and won anyway.
“It was a little physical at times, for sure,” said Wildermuth. “We have been working on shooting free throws a lot. I had a little trouble the past two games, but feel like I’m getting it down.”
“We turned the ball over a few times, and our defense wasn’t the best at times,” Wildermuth continued. “Grammel hit a tough three late, but we got some good pressure on the last one, and kept them from tying it up.”
Grammel concluded his career with 12 points for the 19-7 Cougars, but none of his teammates found double figures. Cincinnati Christian’s 43 points was it second lowest total of the season and 23 points below their season average. The Cougars had averaged 86 points in their first three tournament games, or double what they managed against the Tigers sticky D.
“We talked about that before the tournament,” Elchert stated, referring to the number of close games the Tigers played during the season. “Playing those kinds of games is just great experience for the kids. As you know,the further you go in the tournament, the closer your games are going to be. The kids can draw on that experience and hopefully it continues to pay off for us.”
Both teams struggled from the floor, each shooting 39%. The Cougars were 5 of 16 from the arc compared to the Tigers 2 of 8, but the difference was at the foul line. The Cougars were 8 of 11 on the night, while the Tigers were 18 of 25 for 72%. Twenty-three of those 25 attempts by the Tigers came in the second half when the focus became getting the ball inside.
Next up for the now 22-4 Tigers will be the regional semifinal Tuesday night against either Fort Loramie or Southeastern, who play at 8pm Thursday night at the Arena. Elchert said it’s back to work regardless of who the opponent is.
“We’ll come down and scout it (Thursday night) then we have to get ready for Tuesday’s game. There is probably not as much prep work that has to go into it if you are playing someone you have already faced twice, if it is Fort Loramie. But that’s a two-way street, because they know us well too.
“We had a great crowd tonight, and our fans are just awesome. They did a great job of supporting us, and they will turn right around and support our girls in their regional semifinal tomorrow night. We feel blessed to be playing in the regional Tuesday night. It doesn’t happen every day, and it’s truly a blessing.”
(Edited by Julie McMaken Wright)