The stars played like stars Tuesday night as the Fairlawn Jets and the Jackson Center Tigers advanced to a third meeting this season. The sectional title will be on the line Friday night.
Piqua – You hear it from the so-called experts all the time.
In big games, teams need their stars to play like stars in order to win.
The Jackson Center Tigers and Fairlawn Jets would certainly agree.
The Tigers and Jets will meet for the third time this season when they play for the D-IV sectional title Friday night at Garbry Gym, and both teams leaned on their stars to get there.
In the opener, Nathan Lessing scored 31 points in just over three quarters to lead the second-seeded Jets to a 62-34 romp over Botkins, while Brady Wildermuth scored 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and blocked three shots as Jackson Center eliminated Covington 49-41.
The Final is Friday night at 7pm. The Jets won the regular season meetings by 54-49 and 53-44.
Lessing’s 31 points came on 11 of 13 shooting from the floor, 3 of 3 from the arc and 6 of 7 from the line. The 6-3 senior now has 2,214 points for his career, and is now 24th on the career scoring list for boys basketball in the state. He was presented with the game ball by tournament manager Chip Hare after the game.
Botkins never had a chance in the opener.
The Jets jumped to a 9-2 lead as Lessing scored his team’s first 7 points, stretched it to 20-9 after a quarter and 36-15 at the half. Luke Hickman hit three triples and finished with 11 for the Jets, who are now 21-3.
Luke Bergman led the Trojans, who finished 8-15 with 14 points. The Trojans shot 50% from the floor, but were doomed by 23 turnovers.
Trent Platfoot got Jackson Center off and running with a three-pointer, and the fourth-seeded Tigers never trailed against the Buccs in the nightcap.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert outside the Tigers locker-room. “Once we got the lead, we did a nice job of maintaining it. I was disappointed that we weren’t able to expand the lead as the game went on.”
Covington trailed just 10-8 before Wildermuth drained a three at the first-quarter buzzer to give the Tigers a 13-8 advantage. Christopher Elchert hit a three and Fred Bunke knocked down two free throws to open the second quarter and suddenly the lead was 10.
“Our kids didn’t quit,” stated Covington coach Matt Pond after the Buccs finished 12-12. “But that’s been the story of our season. We just kept playing and fighting. Wildermuth is a great player, and give Jackson Center credit. They had an answer every time we challenged.”
Jackson Center led 25-16 at the break, then scored the first 7 points of the second half to lead 32-16. Covington got the lead down to 7 on a couple of occasions, but could not get any closer. Bryce Sosby scored all 7 of his points in the fourth quarter and Wildermuth added 6 to ensure the Tigers sectional final berth.
“I almost felt sorry for Bryce (Sosby),” Elchert said with a laugh. “He had several shots that looked like they were going in, and just didn’t. I told him in the second half that the next one was going in because he had done everything but make one. He stepped up late.”
Wildermuth only left the floor once, and that was for just seconds late in the fourth quarter. The 6-6 senior scored 8 points in the first quarter, 7 in the second, 5 in the third and 6 in the fourth. He was 8 of 13 from the floor and 9 of 14 at the line, with 5 offensive and 6 defensive rebounds.
Jayce Pond led the Buccs with 10 points while Nathan Blei had 9 and Trevor Miller had 8.
Covington had 16 more shots, but only one more field goal than Jackson Center. The Buccs were 16 of 47 for 34% to Jackson’s 15 of 31 for 48%. Covington was 7 of 17 from the arc for 41% while the Tigers were 3 of 11 for 27%. The big difference was at the line, where the Tigers made 16 of 24 for 67% while Covington was just 2 of 5 for 40%
The Tigers had a big 34-20 advantage on the boards, but had 16 turnovers to the Buccs 9.
“That is very uncharacteristic of us,” Elchert said, shaking his head as he looked at the stat sheet. “We have been averaging about 9 turnovers a game. We didn’t value our possessions very well early, made some silly passes. We have got to get that cleaned up before Friday, obviously. That is not championship basketball. On the other hand, plus-14 on the boards is a very good effort.”
Pond was sorry to see the season end.
“It’s been great coaching these kids. Our seniors, Jayce Pond, Trevor Miller, Nathan Blei,Kenny Atkinson, Adam Lefeld and Tristin Sowers were here when I got here. It’s been a pleasure to watch them grow and mature, not only as players but also as people. They have been great leaders for this program. The only thing we lost tonight was on the scoreboard. I know that’s important, but we got great effort from our kids and I am proud of them for that.”
Now it’s Fairlawn-Jackson Center for round three with a trip to the District Finals on the line.
“We know them well, and they know us well,” Elchert said as he got ready to head for the bus. “Lessing will obviously be our focus defensively, but you have to be careful. Some teams have gone all out to shut him down and one of their other guys has gone off. They have the talent to do that. You aren’t going to shut Lessing down, but you have to keep him from going crazy.
You have to know where he is at all times, because he moves so well without the ball. And one of the big things is to keep him off the offensive glass. After 23 games, we are what we are, and we are going to do what we do. We just have to make sure we do it well Friday night.”