5-5 junior Kennadie Reese made the biggest play of the night to cap off the biggest game of her life and send her Jackson Center Tigers to the State Final Four for the second straight year.
Vandalia – Kennadie Reese is not the biggest member of the Jackson Center Lady Tigers basketball team, not by a long shot.
Today, however, no one stands taller.
Reese, the niece of Jackson head coach Jeff Reese, scored all 12 of her points in the fourth quarter, and made a game-saving, championship-clinching steal with 8 seconds left to send the Tigers past Minster 39-35 in the D-IV Regional title game at the Student Activity Center.
The win sends the Shelby County League Champs to the state final four for the second straight season.
“Everything is a bit of a whirlwind right now,” Jackson Center coach Jeff Reese said. “Just trying to process how that even happened. The biggest shot of the game was that three from Kennedie Reese, at a time when we were really struggling offensively. Then kids just stepped up, and we were ice from the line.”
Minster coach Mike Wiss was classy in defeat.
“24-3” he said, reciting the Wildcats final record. “I have learned that you are only as good as your seniors, and Rosie (Westerbeck), Lindsay (Roetgerman), Hayley (Baumer), Ali (Boergerding) and Savannah (Luthman), are darned good. They got us here. They just made a few more plays than we did, but I am very proud of what we did.”
Both teams got off to a slow start, combining for 2 of 12 from the floor in the first quarter as Jackson Center led 4-2.
Vanessa Winner got the Tigers going in the second quarter, nailing back to back threes as the Tigers appeared to be in command with a 12-4 lead.
“Vanessa has done a great job for us,” Reese praised the 5-8 senior. “There have been several games where we were struggling and she has hit a three or made a jumper or gone strong to the basket. That gives all the girls confidence that they don’t have to do it alone.”
With Jackson up eight midway through the second quarter, a funny thing happened..
The Tigers quit scoring. Completely.
Jackson Center went the final 4:26 of the half with just a single free throw and Minster took advantage. Rosie Westerbeck hit an off-balance, falling-down shot from the right of the basket to tie it at 12, and Demaris Wolf scored out of the paint 25 second later to give Minster its first lead. The Wildcats led 14-13 at the break.
The drought continued for the Tigers in the third quarter. Wolf nailed a three from the top of the key to make it 19-15, and the lead was 6 heading into the fourth quarter. Cassie Meyer’s only basket of the night finally ended Jackson’s field goal drought, which included 1 basket in 12 minutes, 26 seconds.
The tide turned toward Jackson Center in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Kennadie Reese, who to this point was 0 for 5 from the floor, found herself open in the left corner. Her 3 hit nothing but net, and suddenly, the Tigers had life.
“That is not a typical spot for Kennadie Reese to shoot,” Wiss said with a slight smile. “Credit to her, she put it up. That was a big, big shot for them.”
“There is something special about this team,” Reese acknowledged. “We talk all the time about is to maintain. Maintain the intensity, maintain your composure. If we do that, we will be in a position in the fourth quarter to win the game. The score was 39-35, right where we needed it to be to have a chance to be successful, and I am very proud of everyone on this team. Even the girls that didn’t play were very engaged in the game.”
Olivia Clark’s only basket of the game gave the Tigers the lead for good at 27-26 with 3:14 remaining. For the second straight game, the Tigers were money at the free throw line down the stretch, and led 35-28 with a minute to play.
Minster is the two-time defending champion of the Midwest Athletic Conference, and the Wildcats did not go away. Wolf hit another three to bring the Wildcats within 37-35 with 9.9 seconds left.
“Demaris gave us a real spark,” Wiss said of the 6-2 sophomore. “When we were down 7, all we wanted was a chance. We gave ourselves a chance. Part of me wishes we had one timeout left, but we didn’t and that’s part of the game.”
With everyone on their feet, the Tigers threw away the inbounds pass, and Minster had a chance to tie with 8.7 seconds left. Reese, however, stepped in front of a hasty Minster in-bound pass, and raced into the front court to seal the win.
“I don’t really know,” said an excited Reese when asked to describe her game winning steal. “I was just looking, and the next thing I knew, the ball was in my hands and I thought, ‘I gotta go!’ So I just started dribbling.”
“I still felt good after that turnover, because we were still up two,” Reese explained. “I thought the worst thing is we would go to overtime and we would win it there. Then Kennadie makes that steal, and again, an example of someone stepping up and doing what had to be done.”
Both teams shot the ball poorly. Jackson was 8 of 29 for 28%, while the Wildcats were 10 of 35 for 29%. Minster was 3 ofn 7 from the arc, the Tigers 3-9. The Difference was at the line, where the Tigers were 20-25 for 80% including 15v of 19 in the fourth quarter. Minster was 12 of 20 from the line for 60%.
Jackson Center out-rebounded Minster 29-23 and had 15 turnovers to the Wildcats 10.
“We work hard on our free throw shooting, and it has saved us the last two nights,” Reese said, referring to the Tigers 22 of 28 performance from the line in the fourth quarter Thursday night against Tri-Village. “The kids just stepped up and did what they had to do.”
Westerbeck and Wolf led Minster with 11 apiece, while Reese was the only Tiger in double figures with 12.
“Congratulations to Coach Reese,” Wiss saluted. “What a tremendous job they have done. They deserve to be where they are tonight. We just came up a little short.
“We have some young kids in there, who have learned from our seniors. This is a little taste in their mouth too. It’s all part of a program. Our Junior Varsity was undefeated, our 8th grade team was undefeated, and we are 24-3. We have good kids, and as you can see, when Minster plays, the town travels. Kudos to our fans as well.”
Jackson dropped a 62-48 decision to the Wildcats in January, and minster had, in fact, won 11 in a row in the series. Reese was asked what made the difference this time.
“I think it’s the girls’ focus right now,” he said after a moments thought. “They know it’s one and done, that there is no second chance. You either play or you go home, and these girls have a desire and a will. I can’t be more proud of them.”
The Tigers, now 23-4 n the season, will face 4th ranked Waterford in the state semi-finals Thursday at 6pm. The hero of the night, Kennadie Reese, said her team will be ready.
“I am just so happy that we got back to where we were a year ago. Getting back to state means a lot to all of us. We definitely feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of.