The Jackson Center Tigers played a near perfect first half, then survived awful free throw shooting in the second half to win their second regional title in five years.
Kettering-It was a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Jackson Tigers played a really good first half Friday night in the D-IV regional final against Yellow Springs, went thru a bad third quarter, and then survived some ugly free throw shooting down the stretch to come home with a 46-39 win and their second trip to the state final four in five years.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Tigers coach Scott Elchert. You work hard all season to get there and when you do, it’s an awesome feeling.”
The Tigers started the game by continuing a remarkable streak. After closing the third quarter of Tuesday night’s semifinal against Southeastern with a 9-0 run, the Tigers held the Trojans without a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Yellow Springs went 4 minutes and 20 seconds without scoring to start the game, so when Kaner Butler finally put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard, the Tigers had their opponents without a field goal for something like 15 consecutive minutes!
Butler would go on to score all eight of the Bulldogs points in the opening quarter, but Ethan Zorn’s buzzer-beating three lifted the Tigers to a 14-8 advantage after one.
The good times continued to roll for the Tigers in the second period. Zorn hit another three on his way to a ten point night, and freshman Trent Platfoot hit his only shot of the night from behind the arc as Jackson used a 12-2 run to build a 26-10 lead.
“I started shooting around, and my shot felt good from the beginning,” said Zorn, a 6-2 senior. “The guys did a great job of getting me the ball. They told me to shoot and have confidence, and that’s what I did.”
“We did a great job in transition sharing the ball, finding the open man, knocking down shots, getting the ball inside and finishing” said 6-6 junior Brady Wildermuth of the great start. “We were in a groove early and able to keep it up for the entire half.”
“I thought we played a great first half,” concurred Elchert. “Later we battled some foul trouble and took some ill-advised shots with the foul trouble that we had. Ethan came out and got off to a great start and had a super half in every respect.”
Yellow Springs did mount a 6-1 charge to close the quarter, but the Tigers still led 27-16 after a half in which they did not commit a single turnover.
“Someone asked me about Yellow Springs during the week,” Elchert continued. “I told them that all you need to know is that they beat Tri-Village and they beat Lima Perry. Those are high quality basketball teams. So maybe we did let our guard down a little but when we got that 16 point lead.”
Jackson led 31-18 early in the third, but the offense hit a dry spell and the Bulldogs took advantage. Yellow Springs score 10 of the next 11 points to trim the margin to four before a late Drew Sosby hoop made it 34-28 Tigers after three.
Yellow Springs never got closer than three in the fourth quarter, but Jackson left the door wide, wide open. Sosby and Wildermuth combined to miss 9 of ten at the line at one point, a stretch that had former Jackson coach Jerry Harmon pacing the mezzanine. In all, the Tigers were a horrendous 8 for 22 at the line in the final 8 minutes.
Still, this team finds a way to win. Sophomore Bryce Sosby made three of four from the line, older brother Drew knocked down a couple, and when Wildermuth bagged a pair, the victory was secure and the celebration began.
“One of our strengths, not only this year but in previous years, has been our free throw shooting,” Elchert said with a wry grin. “Our shooting at the line abandoned us there in the fourth quarter, and it almost proved costly.”
Did the missed free throws effect the Tigers mentally?
“Sure looked like it, didn’t it,” Elchert said with a laugh that only winners can afford. “It got to the point that I told Brady to just throw them up there underhanded. Anything to break the spell.”
Wildermuth finished with a team high 19, Zorn added 10, all in the first half, and Sosby finished with nine.
Zorn doesn’t mind deferring some of his shots for Sosby and Wildermuth.
“Hey, those guys make things happen. Sometimes, people are so overwhelmed by Drew and Brady that they forget to guard the other guys. When we get the ball, it’s usually because we are wide open, and we just have to knockw down shots. Fortunately, we did that in the first half.”
Butler was terrific all game for the Bulldogs, but didn’t see the ball much in the fourth quarter. He finished with 17. 6-4 senior Isaiah Taylor, who beat on Wildermuth all night, finished his career with 13.
“Taylor is huge,” laughed Wildermuth. “You can’t play off him, because he will step out and shoot the three. He is a very skilled player.”
The numbers were as close as the game. Jackson was 15 of 38 for 39%, Yellow Springs 16 of 38 for 42%. The Bulldogs hurt their cause with a 2 for 13 effort beyond the arc, where the Tigers were 3 of 8. Yellow Springs only shot 6 free throws and made 5, while the Tigers were an ugly 11 of 28 for 39%.
Teams very seldom win a regional title missing 17 free throws, but the Tigers, as they have done all season, found a way.
“This is a dream come true,” Wildermuth said of the final four berth. “I have thought about this since I could talk. Basketball has been a big part of my life since I was young. My brother played at state, my sister played at state, and now I am going to get to play at state. It’s awesome.”
“This feels really great,” said Sosby, the Tigers senior point guard. “it’s almost hard to put into words. It means a lot as a senior to get the chance to play next week. It’s dream come true.”
The Tigers will be playing in the state final four next Friday at 3pm against either Top-Ranked Lima Central Catholic or Ottawa Hills. That game is tomorrow afternoon.
“No doubt about it, this was a team win,” Elchert concluded. “Ethan got his confidence back Tuesday night, and it showed tonight. Trent (Platfoot) our freshman is more than capable of knocking down threes. He’s a guy we almost have to beg to shoot more often. We are very appreciative of this opportunity to play next week. Like I said last week, we are blessed. We are going to make sure to give our gratitude to the Lord, and then get ready to play on Friday.”