Covington bounced back from a rough end to the season and knocked off Ansonia, while Jackson Center used its trademark defense to advance to the D-IV sectional semi-finals at Piqua High School.
Piqua – The Jackson Center Tigers and Covington Buccaneers had vastly different second halves of the high school basketball season.
The Tigers, after a 35-32 loss at Anna in which Jackson scored just 10 points in the second half, won 7 of their final 8 games to grab the number 4 seed at the Piqua sectional. Jackson entered tournament play on a five game winning streak.
Covington, on the other hand, faded down the stretch, losing 6 of its last nine. The Buccaneers entered the post-season on the heels of a 74-42 loss at Anna last Saturday.
Now, the Tigers and Buccaneers are on a collision course after tough, first round victories at Garbry Gymnasium.
Brady Wildermuth led three Tigers in double figures with 22 points as Jackson eliminated Mississinawa Valley 47-39. In the nightcap, three Buccaneers scored 13 points as the Buccs took out Cross County Conference opponent Ansonia 48-40.
“Survive and advance,” said Covington coach Matt Pond after improving to 6-0 against Ansonia. “We talked about that this week. We talked about Bob Huelsman’s ’83 team that came in here with not a great record and went all the way to the Regional. You just have to play one game at a time and you never know what might happen.”
Covington led 13-7 after a quarter, but 6 points by Ansonia sophomore Devyn Sink sparked a 10-2 run that gave the Darke County Tigers a 17-15 advantage. After Covington rallied to take the lead, Brayden Swabb nailed a three at the buzzer to narrow the lead to 21-20 at the break.
Ayden Sanders opened the second half with a three to give Ansonia the lead, but Covington went on a 9-1 run to take the lead for good. Kenny Atkinson scored 6 straight points and Jett Murphy buried a three to finish off the run and give Covington a 30-24 lead.
“Our kids just got it done,” smiled Pond. “I wasn’t real happy with the way we guarded in the first half, even though we only gave up 20 points. We defended better in the second half, did a better job balancing the floor on offense, and got the ball inside, which really helped.”
The Tigers made five threes in the second half, but Covington had an answer each time, and Ansonia never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
Atkinson, Jayce Pond, and Trevor Miller all finished with 13 points for the Buccs, now 12-11 on the season. Sink led the Tigers, who closed the year at 12-11, with 11.
The Buccs were 17 of 39 from the floor for 44%, While Ansonia was 15 of 41 for 37%. Ansonia made 7 threes, but it took the Tigers 27 tries to do it, while Covington was 3 of 8 from the arc. Covington was 11 of 17 from the line, while Ansonia was just 3 of 7.
The Buccs had a 26-17 advantage on the glass and committed 11 turnovers to 13 for the Tigers.
Now the Buccaneers face fourth-seeded Jackson Center Tuesday night at 7:30.
The Tigers out Mississinawa Valley in the first quarter, forcing the Blackhawks into 0-5 shooting and 5 turnovers. The Tigers couldn’t take much advantage, however, and led just 16-10 at the break.
Jackson led by as many as 12 in the second half, before a late Mississinawa rally cut the lead to 6 with thirty seconds remaining.
“Overall, I was happy with our defense in the first half,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert said after the Tigers improved to 16-6. “But it’s a strange thing. We thought that 6 or 7 of their points were the result of defensive breakdowns, so that was the focus at halftime.”
Wildermuth scored 13 of his game-high 22 in the second half, while Bryce Sosby had 11 and Trent Platfoot scored 10, all in the second half.
Ethan Bowman scored 12 and Trenton Perkins added 10 for the Blackhawks, who bowed out with a record of 8-15.
Pond said the Buccs late-season struggles were a mystery.
“I don’t know if we got tired, but we just didn’t play well. We got buried up at Anna but that’s a good division three team. We play a tough schedule and our kids have to show up ready to play every night. I think a lot of people thought we had checked out after that game. It says a lot about our kids that they played the way they did tonight.
“We know we have a tough one Tuesday night against a very well-coached, disciplined basketball team with a lot of good players. The good thing is we get to come back here again. It’s a neat time of year to still be playing.”
Elchert said there were several factors to his teams’ late-season surge.
“Our shot selection has gotten better, and guys are getting their favorite shots, which has contributed to our increased point production. The kids continue to understand what we want defensively and we continue to get better every night out and I think a lot of that has to do with just game experience.
“We know that every tournament game is not going to be pretty. Everybody is preparing hard to get through to the next game. It’s survive and advance. Every game is going to be different, and you have to be ready for anything at this stage of the season. I do feel that this group has gotten to that point, that we can handle whatever is thrown our way.”