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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State finalist from a year ago, Jackson Center took a huge step towards another trip to Columbus with Saturday’s sectional final win…and did it in the toughest way possible.

PIQUA – Ask anyone with any kind of experience at all in competitive sports and they’ll tell you.  There’s nothing tougher to do than to beat the same team three times in the same season.

And to give you an idea about how capable, how focused, and how possibly “charmed” the now 21-4 defending state finalist Jackson Center Tigers are, that’s just what they did Saturday night at Piqua’s Garbry Gym.

They defeated Shelby County League rival Houston, 51–39, to earn a second consecutive Division IV sectional title win and to take the next step towards a hoped-for return to Columbus…the third time they’d beaten the Wildcats in the 2012-13 season.

They beat them at home on opening night back in November, 39-26.

Six weeks later they beat them at Houston in a heart-stopper, 41-39.

And truth be told, a few hearts stopped in Jackson Center in the first half of Saturday’s game as John Willoughby’s Wildcats took a 6-point first half lead and pressed the Tigers’ backs to the wall for most of the half before going to the locker room for the half, trailing 19-18.

The outset of the second half was little different.  Houston grabbed a quick lead before Jackson Center does what coach Scott Elchert says the Tigers do best.  They cranked up the defense, and connected on some timely jump shots that came when they finally got a little continuity with their offense.  They stretched their biggest lead of the game to 37-30 at the end of the third, and put the game away at the foul line down the stretch in the fourth on the strength of sophomore Gavin Wildermuth hitting eight of nine attempts.

But nothing between Shelby County League opponents comes easy, especially with a title of any kind on the line.  And no one was more aware than Elchert that the magnitude of beating a John Willoughby-coached team three times in a year to do it is off the charts.

Can I Give You A Hand?…Houston’s Austin Sarver ignores the hand in his face to connect for his only two points of the night against Jackson Center’s defense.

“Tough,”  said Elchert, drained from the stress and emotion of the game, afterwards.  “Tough thing to do the way we did this tonight.  But one of our strengths is our guard play, and you ask any coach in the age of modern basketball and they’ll say you can’t win at this time of year without it.  Our guards played well tonight, and, we made our free throws down the stretch…I think we hit 17 of 23 on the night.”

Elchert made the point, and it was a good one.  His team played aggressively throughout the game, on both ends.  Something that had haunted them two weeks prior in their season-ending loss to Fairlawn at home.

“Particularly on offense tonight,” he added.  “I thought we attacked the rim all night.  But if you’ve followed us for the past few years you’ve seen it…that we always start any game we’re going to play with our defense.  If we’re going to win we have to defend and lock down on the other team’s best offensive players.  We did that tonight, and we talked about it at the half.  We weren’t real pleased with the way we started in the first half.”

Let the record show, however, that the Tigers held Houston to just 18 points for the first 16 minutes!

“That’s true,” said Elchert.  “But they have some tendencies that we wanted to take away and we didn’t.  I think we allowed too many clean ‘threes’ from their shooters, but I thought the kids adjusted well.  If they hit those open ‘threes’ early it could have been a different game.

“Look, it’s tougher than nails to get out of Piqua, because in our situation tonight we’re playing them for the third time this season.  All three games have been good.  They know us and our strengths.  We know them, likewise.  But beating a John Willoughby team for a third time is really tough because he always has his kids so well prepared.”

Houston did hit 17 of 38 from the field (48%), and credit the Wildcats for playing with a lot of heart and effort.  Nobody understood the stakes better than they.  Defensively, they held Jackson Center to just 36% from the field (15 of 42).

But Jackson Center held important advantages in both turnovers and rebounding.  The Tigers gave the ball up 6 times to Houston’s 12, and out-rebounded the Wildcats 27-19.

If, in the coach’s words, guard play at tournament time is worth a premium, he was surely pleased with his tandem of Alex Meyer and his own son, Trey Elchert.  Together they combined for 29 of Jackson’s 51 points, and never let Houston get to their “tendencies” after their brief lead to begin the third quarter.

“Getting out of Piqua is always fun, especially when you have to beat a team from the County (Shelby) here for the championship,”  said senior guard Alex Meyer, who led all scorers for the game with 18 points.  “There isn’t anything much tougher than beating a team from our league three times in one year, especially Houston because they did such a good job tonight of denying me the ball.  That was frustrating, but we had a great game plan going in.”

That game plan yielded Meyer and his teammates what amounted to a “charming” third win, because it now sets up the Tigers for one-game district opportunity to get back to the regional round of the tournament, and beyond.  Not many teams are that fortunate…that “charmed”.  Ask John Willoughby, who with his Wildcats found for themselves last season…just how tough it is to get back to the state tournament.

But if you can get to the regional, as Elchert and the Tigers found out a year ago, anything can happen, even without an Andy Hoying.

“I really feel fortunate to have this opportunity,”  said Meyer.  “Especially because I’ve got such a great team around me…such great coaches.  We’ve been together now for the last six years.  This is awesome, just awesome.”

They get that shot on Tuesday against Cincinnati Christian High School, out of Fairfield.  And if the Tigers indeed are fortunate enough to win that one…to get back to the regional round…let’s be honest.  They have John Willoughby and the Houston Wildcats to thank for it.

Beating them three times is preparation enough for anything!

Note:  To see the rest of our photos of the Jackson Center-Houston game click on to the “Online Store” icon on the home page.  You’ll be directed automatically to that page, and the gallery.

Put ‘Em There…Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert celebrates with Joey Frye as Frye left the court for a replacement, the victory sealed.

With 108 years of great food and service to Shelby County, “The Spot” is proud to sponsor state tournament coverage on Press Pros Magazine.com.

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