Boys basketball: Jackson Center falls to Troy Christian in regional semifinal


KETTERING — Jackson Center stayed within range but couldn’t come back against Troy Christian in a Division IV regional semifinal on Tuesday.

The Eagles led the whole way and ended Jackson Center’s season with a 57-47 defeat at Trent Arena. The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Tigers, which advanced to a regional semifinal for the second consecutive year.

“Our guys kept battling and battling tonight, and this season,” Jackson Center coach Aaron Klopfenstein said. “That’s just who they are.”

Troy Christian will face Russia in a regional final on Friday at Trent Arena. The Raiders (26-1), which were ranked No. 2 in the final state Associated Press D-IV poll of the season, beat Lancaster Fisher Catholic 71-20 in Tuesday’s first regional semifinal.

“They are a very special basketball team,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “They can get you from so many different places. Their length, which you saw (Saturday) at UD and again here tonight, is impressive. The number of shots they block and challenge at the rim makes it difficult for anybody to score.

“Our goal going into this season was win the league, get the district title, get back to Trent Arena and give yourself a shot to go to state. Luckily we get 32 more minutes. It happens to be against one of the best basketball teams in the state, but we’re blessed and grateful for the opportunity.”

Jackson Center finishes 16-10. The Tigers will lose four seniors to graduation: Lucas Hartle, Trever Huber, Gavin McClintock and Xavier Lowe.

Klopfenstein said he’s been coaching the group for about 10 years. Klopfenstein, a Jackson Center alum, coached the players in the youth program when he first returned to the school district.

“I’ve been around these guys a lot,” Klopfenstein said. “Being my first year, it’s emotional, and I’ll miss them, with all we’ve been through and the relationships we developed.”

Troy Christian, which was ranked No. 4 in the final AP D-IV poll, lost 41-33 to Russia in a regional semifinal last year. Russia beat Troy Christian 73-46 in a regular-season game last year and took an early double-digit lead in the postseason game, but the Eagles cut the gap to one point in the fourth quarter.

The teams played in the WPTW Holiday Classic on Dec. 28 in Piqua, and the Raiders won 64-39.

“I believe in my kids, I believe they’re going to give me 32 minutes on Friday night,” Zawadzki said. “We’ll see if it’s good enough. These last two years, we’ve only got six losses, but three of them are to Russia. That’s going to make it a big challenge. I don’t want to sugarcoat it. We are not favored to win.”

Troy Christian senior point guard Parker Penrod scored 22 points. Christian Brusman added 18 and Alex Free scored eight.

The Eagles shot 21 for 33 (63.6 percent) from the floor, including 5 for 12 (41.7 percent) from 3-point range. They had a 25-19 rebounding edge.

“The shots they hit aren’t necessarily too surprising to us,” Klopfenstein said. “… The stats tell the story. The field goal percentage was huge. They shot the ball well. Sometimes those shots go for a team, and sometimes they don’t.”

Jackson Center shot 21 for 46 (45.7 percent) from the floor. Huber led the Tigers with 14 points and had six rebounds. Heitkamp scored 12, Hartle scored 11 and Reed Platfoot scored 10 and brought down a team-high seven rebounds.

Troy Christian led 30-23 at halftime. Frank Rupnik hit a basket off the glass and Brusman made a 3 in the first two minutes of the third to boost the lead to 37-25.

Jackson Center cut the gap to 10, but Penrod hit a jumper from just inside the right wing as time expired to give Troy Christian a 43-31 lead heading into the fourth.

Jackson Center scored the first five points of the fourth, including a 3 by Heitkamp with about 6:20 left, which cut the gap to seven.

The gap stayed between seven and 10 points until Heitkamp made a basket with about 1:30 left to cut the gap to six. Hartle made a basket with just over a minute left to cut it to 50-44 after Penrod made two free throws.

“That’s been our seniors’ lead this whole season, and a credit to them,” Klopfenstein said. “All that effort and grittiness, grinding it out to the end, is a testament to our seniors.”

Brusman made two foul shots with about 55 seconds left to again push the margin to eight points, and he hit two more with 43 seconds left to increase the lead to 54-44.

“Their ability to spread it out made things tough,” Klopfenstein said. “I felt like we were down almost 10 the first time we played, and we chipped it to one. It felt eerily similar in that regard. We were one or two shots from a one-possession game. They just make it so hard because of their quickness, their ability to handle the ball and spread you out in the second half.”

The Eagles beat Jackson Center 42-35 in a nonconference game on Jan. 6.

“We felt having a lead against Jackson Center was very important, because if they were able to get into their style of ball where they control the tempo, it was going to give us problems,” Zawadzki said. “The first time we played them, we only had 25 field goal attempts.

“… With 25 attempts, anything can happen. After the first quarter tonight, we had 17. I felt our kids were locked in, we were getting good effort and we were getting what we wanted. We wanted pace, and we got pace.”

The teams traded baskets early, but Troy Christian finished on a 7-3 run to take a 17-11 lead by the end of the first quarter. Ethan Grise hit a 3 with 5:07 left in the second to give Troy Christian a 24-14 lead. The Tigers trimmed the gap as low as six and trailed by seven points at halftime.

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

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