By Tony Arnold
KETTERING – The Big Orange Machine is headed back to Columbus.
Backed by a sea of orange supporters, Jackson Center led wire to wire and captured a 46-39 victory over Yellow Springs in the Division 4 Boys Regional basketball championship Friday night at Trent Arena.
Jackson Center (24-4) advances to the state tournament for the fourth time in school history, and will play top-ranked Lincolnview (26-1) on Friday at 2 p.m. at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
“We are very appreciative and blessed. Make sure to give gratitude to the Lord upstairs, and we’re playing on Friday,” said Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert. “It feels great. You work hard — every team works hard — but to get back there is an awesome feeling.
The Tigers took control early on, withstood a late charge from Yellow Springs, and made enough plays down the stretch to advance to the Final Four.
On one of the first plays of the game, senior standout Drew Sosby went diving across half court and onto the floor (leaving a little bit of skin on the court) after a loose ball to force a turnover. Moments later Brady Wildermuth canned a 12-footer for the opening bucket of the game. The tone was set – the Tigers had come to play.
Midway through the opening period, Ethan Zorn slipped past a defender and buried an 18-footer that put JC up 6-2. A hoop and some harm (old fashion three-point play) by Wildermuth bumped the lead up to 11-6. Kaner Butler, who scored all eight of his team’s points in the first quarter, countered with a bucket for the Bulldogs to make it 11-8.
Then it became the Tiger show. Jackson Center rattled of a 12-2 run. Zorn canned a triple from the top of the key just before the first quarter buzzer to ignite the spurt.
Trent Platfoot fired in a three-pointer that found nothing but net and the Tigers led 21-10. Bryce Sosby drove into heavy traffic, got an open look following a pump fake, and knocked home a ten-footer in the lane to make it 23-10. After another three-pointer by Zorn, the lead swelled to 26-10.
“I felt like we had a great first half and late we battled some foul trouble and probably took some ill-advised shots with the foul trouble that we had. Anyhow, Ethan Zorn had a great start to the game and an awesome first half in every phase,” said Elchert.
Throughout the first half, Jackson’s play was synonymous with success. They ran down loose balls (or dove after them), limited second-chance opportunities by grabbing defensive rebounds, displayed rapid ball movement, and knocked down big shots.
“I felt like our resolve on the boards in the first half was tremendous. Bryce came away with a couple loose-ball rebounds, Trent did, Gavin Boozer had a great checkout. It was a concern going into this game and across the board. But we did rebound well,” said Elchert.
Early in the third period, Jackson Center led 31-16 after an offensive putback by Wildermuth. But with their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs put together a 12-1 run to get back into a game they once looked out of. A bucket by Butler sliced the Tiger lead down to 32-28.
Drew Sosby stopped the Bulldog momentum on the defensive end by taking a charge and came back on the offensive end and dropped in a 12-footer that had JC up 34-28 heading into the fourth.
The Tigers led 41-33 with just over three minutes remaining after Bryce Sosby calmly sank a pair of free-throws.
However, Jackson Center, normally a solid free-throw shooting team, struggled at the line. The Tigers connected on just 1 of 10 from the charity stripe over a 64-second stretch.
“In the second half we got off to a good start but we spun our wheels and they got right back in it and turned it into a game. Unfortunately, one of our biggest strengths is free-throw shooting and it kind of abandoned us there. And it was almost costly,” said Elchert.
Still, Jackson Center, lifted by their ever-constant defensive pressure, was able to withstand the dry spell down the stretch.
“We had to have stops again and we had them. That’s our first key to every game – we have to defend. Our feeling is even when your offense abandons you and your defense is good, you still continue to give yourself a chance as opposed to the other way around,” said Elchert.
The Tigers finished just 11 of 27 (40 percent) from the free-throw line. The Bulldogs didn’t manufacture many attempts, hitting 5 of 6 (83 percent) from the line.
Brady Wildermuth led all scorers and paced the Tigers with 19 points. Ethan Zorn finished with 10 points. Kaner Butler led the Bulldogs with 17 points.
Last trip to Columbus — The JC boys last advanced to the state championship in 2012. The current seniors were in eighth grade that year.
“Being an eighth grader sitting in the stands thinking that could be us one day, and today is finally here. The atmosphere was great with both fans going back and forth. We stayed focused, which was our main emphasis no matter what happened,” said Drew Sosby, who had an older brother who played on that 2012 team.
“This is a dream come true,” said Wildermuth, still just a junior. “I have thought about this since I could talk. Basketball has been a big part of my life since I was young. My brother played at state, my sister played at state, and now I’m going to get to play at state. It’s awesome.”
Game film — Prior to departing for Columbus on Friday, Jackson Center watched a little bit of the regional final game that punched their ticket to Columbus in 2012.
“We actually watched about five minutes of our first quarter against Jefferson before we left tonight because of the atmosphere and how much orange there was. Those guys were in the stands and they remembered. I told them I’m going to take you back to this element and tonight it’s going to be your turn – you are going to be the ones creating memories for everyone. It’s a great feeling and it’s a reward not only for this year but the last several years. These are program wins, not just 2016 wins,” said Elchert.
Community and coaching — The last one to leave Jackson Center on Friday was expected to turn the lights off. A sea of orange rolled out of town on their way to Columbus for the girls state semifinals and dashed over to Kettering for the boys regional final.
“Our community and school is just top notch. So much of the credit goes to Garrett Serr, Tony Meyer, and Aaron Klopfenstein,” said Elchert of his coaching staff. “No one understands the amount of work and effort they put in behind the scenes and their contributions to the program and team are immeasurable.”
It’s a first — The Jackson Center boys joined the JC girls as regional champs. For the first time in the history of Shelby, a school has advanced both teams to the state tournament in the same year.
Up next — The Tigers’ next opponent is Lincolnview, which finished as the top team in the final regular season state rankings. The Lancers defeated Mansfield St. Peter’s 71-51 in their regional final at Bowling Green. The Lancers get scoring from a variety of sources.
Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News