Boys basketball: Strong defense lifts Jackson Center to district title


DAYTON — Jackson Center was strong the last two years and won 19 games each season, but something was lacking against its toughest opponents.

“Defense. It’s been a big difference this year,” senior guard Nolan Fark said. “We can get stops when we want now. It’s all we do in practice. That’s the main thing it comes down to, sit down and play D.”

Fark and the Tigers did that again in a Division IV district final on Friday.

Jackson Center scored 16 straight points in the second quarter to take control and ran away from there to earn a 56-34 victory over Cincinnati College Prep at University of Dayton Arena.

It’s the first district title since 2020 for Jackson Center, which lost in district finals the last two years, including to Springfield Catholic Central last year at UD Arena.

“It’s great, something I haven’t felt before,” Fark said. “We told each other before this game, ‘We can’t lose here again.’”

Fark, who finished with 11 points, guarded College Prep’s Josh Marshall for most of the game. Marshall was a first team all-Southwest district selection in Div. IV and averaged about 25 points per game. He managed 11 on Friday and shot 3 for 19 from the floor.

The Tigers have won 25 straight games since losing to Shelby County Athletic League rival Russia by one point in a season opener on the road.

Friday’s win was the 21st time Jackson Center has held an opponent under 40 points this season.

“I loved the chemistry we had coming into the season, with seven seniors on the team and us starting five seniors,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert said. “Our sixth, seventh and eighth guys have given us so many great minutes over the year. They’ve blended well, and they trust each other.

“We felt coming into the summer we had a really good team on our hands. It took us the summer and the fall to understand that we have to play defense on a consistent basis. They’ve bought in, and I think we’re seeing the result of that.”

College Prep scored the first five points and led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter. The Lions made the first basket of the second quarter to take an eight-point lead.

“We weren’t worried. We knew this game was going to be good, and we just had to stick with what we knew,” senior guard Jace Mullenhour, who scored a game-high 25 points, said.

College Prep didn’t score again for over four minutes, while the Tigers ran off 16 points.

“They were speeding us up. We weren’t playing our game, we were playing theirs,” Fark said. “We just had to slow ourselves down, tighten our defense up, and tighten our gaps. I thought we did that well.”

The go-ahead basket occurred with just under four minutes to play, when senior guard Grant Elchert blocked a shot, dribbled down and hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to put the squad ahead 17-16.

“I think that was a huge play,” Scott Elchert said of his son. “… I think that allowed everybody to take a deep breath and start playing.”

Aside from picking up intensity on defense, the Tigers started penetrating more and were able to score on drives.

“They were getting right up in us on the pass, and we felt like our guys were good enough ball handlers with a quick first step that you’ve take that first step away, or we’ll have the angle,” Elchert said.

Neither team scored in the first four minutes of the third quarter, but the Tigers were able to score in the last four minutes and pushed their lead to 38-22 heading into the fourth.

Mullenhour brought down 13 rebounds. Senior Camdyn Reese scored 12 points and brought down 11 rebounds.

Jackson Center had a 38-20 rebounding edge and shot 22 for 48 (45.8 percent) from the floor while the Lions shot 12 for 41 (29.3 percent).

Jackson Center (25-1) will face Patriot Prep (19-6), a Columbus-based charter school, in a regional semifinal at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Trent Arena in Kettering. Russia will face Troy Christian at 8 p.m.

The two winners will play for a state berth on Friday night in Kettering.

The Tigers had six days between their district semifinal and final, and Mullenhour said the Tigers will be ready for a quick turnaround next week.

“We’ve just got to come out, play defense, and move the ball around and hit shots when you’re open,” Mullenhour said.

Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.

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Bryant Billing has been at the Sidney Daily News since 2017. He took over as editor in April of 2024 after working as sports editor for the previous 6.5 years. He worked as a reporter and later as an editor for a weekly newspaper in Springfield from 2007 to 2012, managed a Springfield-based website called from 2012 to 2016 and then worked as a freelancer for Cox Media Group Ohio newspapers (including the Dayton Daily News) from 2016 to 2017 before joining the SDN.

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