One possession away from a miracle comeback and a chance to advance to Saturday’s finals, the Jackson Center Tigers lost on a buzzer beater shot by Waterford.
Columbus—-It was another epic fourth quarter comeback for the Jackson Center Lady Tigers.
Only this one had a bitter ending.
Down 14 entering the fourth quarter to defending champion Waterford in the Division Four state semifinals, the Tigers went on a 17-3 run, tying the game on a Cassie Meyer three with 18 seconds remaining.
That left too much time for the Wildcats, however, and Hayley Duff drove the lane and scored at the buzzer to hand the Tigers a gut-wrenching 37-35 defeat.
“It was a hard-fought game on both sides,” said a somber but proud Jackson Coach Jeff Reese. “They made a run in the third quarter and got up big on us, but again, we had kids just step up and make plays. Unfortunately, they made one more play at the end of the game.”
“I can’t say enough about this group of kids,” said Waterford coach Jerry Close. “We lost our only senior in the 6th game of the year, and teams pushed us around for most of the season. Its only been about the last three games that they decided they were not going to let that happen anymore. We would not have won this game in mid-season.”
Jackson started the game well, as Kamryn Elchert, Meyer and Kennadie Reese all counted from the three point arc to give the Tigers an early 9-4 lead.
Waterford allows just 27 points a game, and that defense kicked in as the champs went on a 16-2 run that gave them their largest lead of the half at 20-11. Vanessa Winner and Alicia Kessler got the final two baskets of the half for Jackson, which trailed 20-15 at the break.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Tigers. Olivia Clark scored her only basket of the night to cut the lead to three, but Northeast District Player of the Year Alli Kern, a 5-9 junior, nailed three three-pointers to key a 12-1 run the gave Waterford a seemingly insurmountable 32-18 lead after three quarters.
Nothing, apparently, is insurmountable for these Tigers. Meyer scored twice, Kessler scored twice, and Elchert hit another three while Jackson was holding Waterford scoreless. Kern finally got the Wildcats off the scenic with a free throw at the 1:09 mark, then made two more with 39 seconds left.
Following a timeout, Meyer got open at the top of the key and buried a triple to tie it at 35, setting up Waterford’s final possession.
Duff, a 5-8 junior, explained the final play.
“I really didn’t know how much time was left,” she said with a laugh. “I knew it wasn’t much. I knew we didn’t want to go to overtime. So I just took the ball to the basket, and fortunately it went in.”
“We practice that scenario every day,” Reese said with a sigh. We know we can not give up a shot, because any shot can go in. But they ran their offense well and Hayley Duff did a great job getting to the rim.”
Jackson shot 25% for the first three quarters, then shot 50% down the stretch.
“That’s a great question,” Reese said when asked what made the difference. “We really didn’t do anything different. We just had a different mindset—it’s the fourth quarter, there are no more second chances. If you have a shot you have to take it. We laughed about it during a timeout. Sometimes I think they want to see how much stress I can take.”
Elchert agreed that the Tigers had nothing to lose.
“We just said if you have a shot take it. We have gotten a bit of a reputation of being able to come back. Once we got going, things fell into place. We just came up one shot short.
The game was tremendously physical, and referees Brian Hagan, Mike Mitchell and Christopher Jarus didn’t seem to care. They called just 18 fouls all night, and only five…FIVE! against the Wildcats.
“We expected it to be physical,” Reese said during the post-game news conference. “We aren’t making excuses. You have to adjust to the way the game is called.”
“I don’t have a problem with the way the game was called,” said Close. “I did during the game, but it’s tournament basketball. We knew it would be physical.”
Meyer finished with 10 points to lead the Tigers, while Winner added 7 and Kessler and Elchert had 6 apiece.
Kern finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Waterford, while Duff had 10 and Megan Ball, another all-district selection, added 8 points and ten rebounds.
Jackson was 14 for 42 from the floor for 33%, compared to Waterford’s 14 of 38 for 37%. The Tigers were 5 of 16 (31%) from the arc, while the Wildcats were 4 of 11 (36%). Neither team got to the line much, despite the physicality of the game, with Waterford 5 of 6 and Jackson 2 of 4.
Jackson out-rebounded the Wildcats 29-25, an amazing stat because Waterford held an 11-1 edge after the first quarter, and had 12 turnovers to Waterford’s 11.
“Our goal is always to maintain,” Reese said. “Maintain our character and our poise, and give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. That’s what the ladies did. They sstayed with it and got back in it, but we just came up short tonight.”
Waterford will take a 25-3 record into the final against either Berlin Hiland, or Ottoville.
“We are playing Saturday, and that’s all I care about” said Close. “Both teams are very good, but we are going to show up and play for a championship. That’s all you can ask.”
“I couldn’t be prouder than I am of the twelve girls in that locker-room,” Reese concluded. “Their grit is amazing.They are a tough, extremely proud group of kids who have worked hard all season. They don’t get nervous, they always maintain their focus. They are all going to be successful in life, and as coach, that’s what you strive for.”