In eerily the same position as they were a year ago, Jackson Center moved on in tournament play Monday with a whopping win over Mississinawa…while opening some eyes as to the prospects of their making another run to Columbus in Division IV.
Sidney – Frankly, it was one of those tournament games that may not have been needed.. But that’s another column for another day.
#1 Jackson Center (18-4) versus #11 Mississinawa Valley (2-20) left very little to the imagination in terms of pre-game drama. In fact, Troy Christian wrenched all the drama there was to be had in Monday’s first Division IV quarterfinal game by knocking out Botkins, 39-38, on a last-second shot by Kathryn Lee.
And whatever was left was dispatched at the end of the first half of the Jackson-Mississinawa game – the first quarter, really – by Tigers’ senior guard Kamryn Elchert. Daughter of boys coach Scott Elchert, the 5’3” guard poured in 20 first half points on 6 of 9 shooting from three-point range and pushed Jackson to a commanding 40-13 lead at the break.
Drama dispatched, Dr. Naismith picked up his coat and headed for the door to catch the end of the Kentucky game on ESPN.
But not without some sense of theater, Elchert did make a cameo at the outset of the third quarter, promptly hit her first and only shot of the half (what else, a deep three from the corner) and promptly went to the bench at coach Jeff Reese’s suggestion. Her night done, she watched appreciatively as her teammates finished up business, 65-22.
She talks basketball almost as well as her dad, and admits that if you live in a basketball household you have to do your part to feel a part of things.
“It’s definitely a basketball family,” she shared. “But between me and my brothers, it probably depends on the day. But it probably means the most to Dad. He’s a very competitive person and he’s always taught us to play that way.”
As to her big shooting night…?
“I just had a good warmup,” Kamryn added. “And in the locker room we thought they’d run a box-and-one and center around Cassie (Meyer), so if they were going to take our best player out someone else had to step up. So I felt it was my job as the other senior to step up and hit the shots.”
The beauty of it was…none of her twelve shots on the night were forced. Every one of her eight made field goals came within the flow of the offense, a bad omen for upcoming Tiger opponents.
“Our team does such a good job of driving and kicking it back out,” said Elchert. “It’s a very unselfish group and I love playing being a part of this team. It’s awesome.”
Elchert finished with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting (67%), while the Tigers overall shot 47% for the game and 44% from behind the arc. Teammate Vanessa Winner joined Elchert in double figures with 10 points.
Mississinawa Valley bowed out for the year by shooting 19.5% from the floor for the game, 11% from three-point range, and was led in scoring by Kelsie Hunt, with 11 points. Teammates Mikayla Stump and Sidnie Hunt had 6 and 5 points, respectively, for the Blackhawks other 11 points.
In Kamryn Elchert’s words it was an awesome start, but awesome enough to repeat last year’s magic and slip through the sectional and district rounds to land in the regionals, where they shocked the Shelby County world by beating favored Loramie to earn the trip to the Final Four.
“I think there’s been a target on their back since last year,” first-year coach Jeff Reese said outside his locker room. “But I think there’s a different mentality with them now because the target’s there from both volleyball (two-time state champs) and basketball. Now they know they’re good in both sports, and that they can be successful in both. I really feel good about their attitude.”
Reese has played some basketball in his time, and appreciates most the experience and the confidence that comes with being a state champion…in any sport.
“I’ve said a million times, success breeds success,” he added. “When you know how it feels, and what it takes to be successful, then every day is a little different and a little easier in practice. They know that it’s going to take hard work. There’s no magic, and they go to work with that mentality. Not only in sports, but with life in general.”
19-4 after Monday’s win, the Tigers may have another advantage relative to last year’s success. They might be overlooked in comparison to other, more highly-publicized Division IV teams like Minster.
“Honestly, I don’t think so,” said Reese. “With the experience that the kids have had I think other teams knew that they had a lot to offer, and if nothing else they had the target on their back because there were those who thought they didn’t deserve it last year.”
“If we are under the radar,” added Kamryn Elchert with a competitive grin (what else?), “that’s really not a bad thing. If teams want to take Minster more seriously than us, that’s a good thing in our favor.”
So as to the question, what are their chances? They’ve got size, they’re athletic, largely the same group have championship experience in volleyball, and they have what only three other teams in the state have from last year’s tournament – Final Four basketball experience.
And, oh yeah, they’ve got Troy Christian next, on Saturday at noon. Better not take them lightly.