It proved that averages and percentages really have nothing to do with matters of the heart…and finding the will, and a way, to win when there’s no other option.
Kettering – There was a fest of good feeling going on in the locker room, and outside in the hallway where Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert was holding court with media types frothing at the mouth for a morsel…any morsel.
It was moments after Jackson Center had pulled off one of the most improbable defensive performances in recent tournament memory: The Tigers extinguishing an excellent Southeastern basketball team, holding it to just 9 points in the second half, and 2 in the fourth quarter. They had overcome a nine-point deficit at one point, coming back win in the waning moments of the game, 39-32.
How did they do it?
Well for starters, Jackson Center held guard Jake Bertemes (pronounded Ber-tuh-mus) to just 4 points for the game. This is the same Jake Bertemes that had strafed another good Shelby County team, Ft. Loramie, just four nights previous for 33 points in the district final at UD Arena.
And the irony of that is…to shut him down they used their best offensive player and asked him to become, for a night, their best “defensive” player.
“We talked prior to the game and I told Drew (Sosby) that this (Bertemes) is the best player you’ve had to guard this year, and the fact that he held him to just 4 points over 32 minutes speaks volumes,” said Elchert to a handful of reporters. “And he still scored enough for us to win.
“Here’s what I’m going to say about Drew. We’ve been blessed with a lot of great players at Jackson Center, and the one thing that we try to make sure of is that they become great offensive players…and even better defensive players. That speaks volumes about Drew Sosby here tonight as a basketball player.”
It was a game that statistically made no sense. Everyone expected a repeat, a command performance by the mercurial Bertemes, who seemingly has every move and every shot in the book. And yet, there were no stats to back that up. Not on this night.
It was a game that one would expect Drew Sosby, he of a 21-point per game average, to shoot at least that for the Tigers to have any chance at all against the 23-4 Trojans. And yet, Sosby would finish the game with just 14 points, 25% below his seasonal statistic for scoring.
It was a game that dictated that if your best doesn’t score, EVERYONE else has to pick up the slack. But in fact, only a couple did. Junior post player Brady Wildermuth scored a game-high 15 points, and Ethan Zorn, who had struggled with his scoring confidence throughout the season, had 7. Bryce Sosby added just 3 points.
It was a game that saw Jackson Center stumble coming out of the gate, Wildermuth, the biggest player on the floor by three inches, missing one point-blank shot at the rim after another. Southeastern was little better, but still lead 12-6 at the end of a quarter.
But Ethan Zorn, with the Trojans fixated on stopping Drew Sosby – with their student section screaming to guard #5 every time he touched the ball – did something that the statistics will long overlook. Zorn hit a pair of back-to-back threes that turned the momentum of the first half, if not the score, and gave Jackson Center pause to regroup at the half, still trailing 23-18.
“Two very big shots,” added Elchert outside his locker room door. “One, it did change the momentum of things. And two, Ethan has struggled with his confidence shooting for a while and those two shots took the pressure off of him and the rest of the team. I think it helped him, and us, relax and just play.”
No, statistically none of this made any sense because stymied as they were, the enthusiastic partisans from Clark County still expected Bertemes and company to rejuvenate, make corrections, and re-gen the engine in the second half.
What happened was more of the same, and just enough of Drew Sosby, who had 5 at the half, to put Jackson Center in a very comfortable, and familiar, frame of mind. Accustomed to quality basketball and steady diet of tenacious competition from the likes of Russia, Anna, Loramie, Fairlawn, et. Al, Sosby coolly hit a couple of threes in the second half to buoy the confidence of his team. When Jackson finally tied the game at 30-30…they knew their defense, as it had on so many other occasions, would see them home. It did.
The Tigers closed the third quarter on a 9-0 run.
But more importantly, they reprised to close the fourth quarter, and the game, on another 9-0 run.
“It’s that time of year when you just have to win to see tomorrow,” said Elchert. “That’s how we described it to the kids and we had some kids make plays, senior plays, on offense and defense, at the end of the game.
“We needed those two runs because we had put ourselves behind the eight ball. But once we got over that hump…and got that 32-31 lead that was huge. Once we finally got the lead we were able to maintain it, and sometimes you see a team that burns so much energy to take the lead they take it for granted. We didn’t let that happen. We continued to make big plays on defense.”
Inside the locker room Drew Sosby, the man of the hour in a different suit, leaned quietly against the wall and smiled, reflecting, indeed, on “getting to see tomorrow”.
There was no mention of personal satisfaction. There was no concern over scoring below his average, or the team’s average. Somehow, like they always seem to do on those special years, Sosby and the Tigers had found a way to win.
“Defense,” he said, when asked about the challenge of holding Jake Bertemes to 80% below his seasonal average.
“He’s a great player, tough to guard. We knew we had to control him. Everyone chipped in.”
The 9-0 runs? The stuff of pure tournament magic, the kinds of things that are determined by familiarity and kinship…by a simple look and understanding in a timeout huddle.
“We all looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, we gotta’ get it going.We have to step it up now,’ and we did. Their defense was good. We had our troubles, too. But you could sense some frustration at the end. They had the good start, but we had the finish. We kinda’ gave them a piece of their own medicine back.”
They’ll see tomorrow come Friday when they’ll meet Yellow Springs, another surprise on Tuesday, who beat a heavily favored Lima Perry team by 18 points, 61-43.
“Biggest game of my life, to do this in a regional semi-final,” said Sosby, still holding up the wall, and anything but overcome by the significance of his team’s accomplishment. “I was an eighth grader in 2012 when they went to state. My brother was on that team.”
And to have the chance to follow in his footsteps now, four years later?
“It feels good. Great opportunity,” he offered. “Might as well go do it.”
To be that young, and unaffected, as if there’s no other option. Make sense of that if you can.
It’s the time of year when stats don’t matter. Just winning!