Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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Fairlawn pulled the Shelby County League shocker, beating Jackson Center at home…and on senior night, at that.  A very special senior night!

Jackson Center – Trey Elchert sat in front of his locker after the game for the longest time, head buried inside his jersey.

You love it when a plan comes together?  Elchert’s, and that of his six senior teammates on the Jackson Center Tigers basketball team, did not.  The Fairlawn Jets saw to that, stopping by Friday to close out the 2012-13 Shelby County League regular season, stunning Elchert, his fellow seniors, and a gym packed so tightly with partisan Tiger fans that one more would have required a shoe horn to wedge in and sit down.  They beat the league champion Tigers, and the defending state finalists, on their own court, 50-46!

Give credit when it’s due.  The 15-7 Jets played well.  They shot well, and defended even better.  They took everything that Jackson Center (18-4) usually does well, especially at home, and turned it inside out.

Anthony Gillem, the Jets’ 5’10” shooting guard took matters into his own hands, leading all scorers with 18 points.  But more, he inspired six other Jets to score and perhaps play a notch above that which anyone might have expected.  You see, for the past two seasons you just don’t beat Jackson Center at home.  And in fact, Gillem and his four senior teammates at Fairlawn had “never” beaten Jackson Center at home.

“This was really big for our kids,”  said Fairlawn coach Justin Tidwell.  “Their senior class and our senior class have always kind of been like #1 and #2 in the county.  And, the boys really wanted to get a win here tonight and get on a roll for the tournament next week.  The talk all week at school was about coming in here tonight and finally beating Jackson.

“We probably played our best defensive game of the year.  Anthony had a great night, and we had some other kids make big shots…Ryan Lessing and Grant Covault made big three-pointers off the bench.  And, we forced them out of their game and into taking some bad shots on offense and got a lot of big rebounds at big points of the game.”

Fairlawn’s Trey Everett scores early in the game over Jackson Center defender Gavin Wildermuth.

Simple as that when you win.  But on what was an obviously emotional night for Jackson Center, its kids, its coaches and its crowd, nothing seemed simple or ordinary.

They had hoped for a winning sendoff for seven seniors who last year restored and evoked memories of the pinnacle days of Tiger basketball by advancing to the Division IV state finals…a “bon voyage”, if you will, and thanks for the memories.  Not since 1985 had they been so far, the year they won their only championship in boys basketball.

Sans Andy Hoying, a forward and leading scorer on that team, they had returned largely intact, bent on redeeming that one loss (27-1) last year to Berlin Hiland in the state championship game, a game where everything went wrong against a much bigger and obviously talented team from Holmes County.  It left a bad taste, a smudge on an otherwise perfect season.

They started this season like a house afire, clenching the Shelby County League title early, albeit stumbling in late December with back to back losses against Ft. Loramie and Columbus Grove on successive nights.

And then last week, beaten at the buzzer by Temple Christian, a tough loss so late in the year, when, like Fairlawn, the goal was to finish clean and in high gear for the sectional tourney.  So then,  Fairlawn comes in Friday and threw a wrench in the gears.  What now?

“Well, they played well,”  said an emotionally drained Scott Elchert, the coach of Jackson Center, after the game.  Emotion is nothing new for Elchert, who readily admits that everything he does is emotional, including walking through the pre-game senior recognition ceremony Friday with his wife and son Trey.

“These kids have battled like that since junior high.  They’ve battled throughout high school and they (Fairlawn) gave us a great game last year in the sectionals.  We knew they’d come in here swinging tonight.  I’m sure early in the year they had hoped that this game would be played for the league title, and thank goodness we took care of that earlier in the year.”

Still, a disappointment for Elchert for the fact of that all-important momentum that Justin Tipton said his team gained for next week’s tournament.  The question is, did Jackson lose momentum by doubts caused, if any, by a pair of losses in the final week of the season?

“The tale of the night boiled down to three things for us,”  said Elchert, who while emotional he may be is one of the truly class acts in the coaching profession.  “One, we don’t typically have many breakdowns defensively, but we did tonight and every time we had one they made us pay.

Two, we did a pretty good job on the offensive boards, but it doesn’t mean anything if you miss the stickback attempts, and we missed too many point-blank shots tonight, especially in first half.

Jessie Hughes (#10) blocks the three-point attempt of Jackson’s Alex Meyer as the Tigers tried to mount a fourth quarter comeback.

And three, we didn’t shoot well and fell in love with the “three” early in the game.  We didn’t get enough inside touches and we finished 2 for 18 from behind the arc.”

In a game on a night when the now-graduated Andy Hoying might well have made a difference, Elchert was looking for that same spark from someone else, the spark that’s going to be necessary to make another hoped-for run through the  tournament and back to Columbus…the ultimate “bon voyage” (translation:  a good trip) for everyone that showed up Friday in orange and black.  Alex Meyer and Gavin Wildermuth each scored 16 points, 32 of the Tigers’ collective total of 46 points.

“I was actually looking for Alex (Meyer),”  said Elchert with a nod and a smile.  “No discredit to him, but he’s been that guy for us all year.  He’s been our Andy this year in the other 21 games, at both ends of the floor.  But tonight, well……”

His voice trailed off as stress of the night, the season, and the hoped-for reprise of last year fell as imminent reality for Elchert and his group of talented seniors;  the emotion of the evening, people with tears in their eyes before the game and after…appreciation for a group of kids that had already accomplished so much…and the anticipation of what they might yet accomplish before they leave for good.

“You hope that losing last week, losing tonight, becomes a good thing,”  he continued.  “I don’t want to say that maybe we lost a little bit of our competitive edge, but we’d been through a stretch this year where we went through a string of incredible teams, and we came through unbeaten, and you can only do that for so long.  It’s human.  So I think we’ve been dealing with that the last couple of weeks and maybe tonight will serve a good purpose.  Maybe we refocus and go on from here.  I know this.  We’ll come out Monday for practice and we’ll be ready to rock and roll.  We’re ready for the tournament.”

And by the way…when Trey Elchert, Alex Meyer, Levi Winner, Eric Ryder and the other seniors finally emerged from the locker room Friday they looked no worse for the wear.  After all, they are the back-to-back champions of the Shelby County League, and, the defending state finalists.  They know it, and they will be at practice on Monday, ready to rock and roll.

The boosters were serving post-game food in the cafeteria Friday, and they probably ate like hungry wolves.

Bon apetit, and bon voyage!

Note:  To see additional Press Pros images of Friday’s Jackson Center/Fairlawn came click on the “Online Store” icon on the home page.

With 107 years of great food and great service to the Shelby County community, “The Spot” is proud to sponsor area high school sports on Press Pros Magazine.com.

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