Jackson Center doesn’t have many players back from last season’s 15-10 team squad — especially after an injury to a returning starter.
But the Tigers showed in a season opener at Russia last Friday there’s no reason to doubt they’ll be among the Shelby County Athletic League’s best again this season.
Jackson Center (1-1) will look to keep its hot league start going in its home opener on Friday against Houston (0-1). The Tigers opened the season with a 48-44 road win over the Raiders and lost 37-31 to Columbus Grove in a nonconference road game on Saturday.
Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert, who is in his 19th season at the program’s helm, said he’s pleased with where the team is at heading into the second week of the season.
“We knew it was going to be a tough weekend against two high-quality opponents, so we were very excited,” Elchert said. “We were very happy with the way we played at Russia. It’s tough to win over there, so getting the win there was icing on the cake. I’m pretty pleased overall with how we played, especially defensively.
“I think we put ourselves in a good position on Saturday but let one get away. We had a 1-point lead with less than 40 seconds to go, but we just didn’t get a couple of things to go our way. We talked that it was just our second game of the year, though, and we can use that as a learning experience for down the road.”
Jackson Center’s slow, methodical pace and stout man-to-man defense has made the squad a tough opponent throughout Elchert’s tenure (which includes two regional championships).
The plan for more tough defense took an early hit this season when junior post Calvin Winner tore a labrum in the team’s first scrimmage. Winner, who averaged 4.1 rebounds per game last year, had surgery to repair the injury last week.
“That was a devastating blow,” Elchert said. “He was a two-year starter for us. Losing that kind of experience and that height in the middle is tough. He didn’t necessarily put a lot of points on the board every night, but he did all the other things and made it easier on his teammates.”
The team is a bit young in the post as a result of Winner’s injury but has one of the best underclassmen in the area in Aidan Reichert. Reichert, a 6-4 sophomore post, was one of the first players off the bench last season and developed into a dependable scorer inside.
With Winner’s injury, Elchert said Reichert will be depended upon more for defensive presence and rebounding.
“He’s our biggest guy, so his defensive assignments will have increased or changed,” Elchert said. “It certainly affects him, but everybody’s role changed to a certain degree. It’s an adjustment process, but I feel like we’re making progress.”
Reichert led the Tigers with 18 points in Friday’s win over Russia and scored nine against Columbus Grove.
Two other starters are back this season: junior guard Christopher Elchert and senior guard Trent Platfoot. Platfoot averaged 10.5 points per game a year ago and led the squad with 11 points last Saturday. He scored 13 against the Raiders on Friday.
“We need Trent to be consistent on a nightly basis offensively and defensively,” Elchert said. “He’s got a wealth of varsity experience. He’s now a three-year starter, and I think that makes a world of difference because he is battle-tested and has been in some very big games in his career, not only in regular season but deep into the tournament.”
Aside from last season’s 15-win campaign, the Tigers finished 18-7 in 2016-17 and advanced to a district final. They finished 6-6 in SCAL play in both seasons, though, with seven of the 12 league losses coming by nine or more points.
Elchert is hopeful last Friday’s win is a sign the squad is ready to compete for its first league title since 2013. For that to happen, they’ll need to continue their hot start on Friday against Houston. The Wildcats lost their season opener 73-48 to Minster last Friday in Houston.
“I think Houston’s a very dangerous team, and that score from Friday night is very deceiving,” Elchert said. “Minster came out and shot lights out. If it wasn’t for that, Houston battled them. The one thing we have stressed all week with our team is the amount of energy that (Houston) plays with.
“It’s very impressive, the energy level they play with. They’ve got some dangerous guys that can drive the ball at you hard. They can also step out and hit 3s, so that gives you a challenge defensively. Those combo players, guys that can take the ball to the hole and can shoot the 3, are tough. You’ve got to respect all phases of their game.”
Barhorst happy with Anna post presence
Anna (1-0) will look to stay undefeated when it hosts Fairlawn on Friday. It’s the first game of the season for the Jets, who had their originally-scheduled season opener against Fort Loramie pushed back to January.
Anna, which tied with Fort Loramie and Russia for the SCAL title last year, had an impressive debut last Friday with a 72-46 win over Botkins.
The Rockets had stellar guard play led by junior Bart Bixler. But coach Nathan Barhorst was proud of the team’s post presence — and not just with senior Griffin Doseck, who scored 18 points. He credited Kam Steward, Justin Murray and Meyer for helping to take away Botkins’ ability of driving into the paint.
“That’s one thing we said coming into this season, that we need to have inside presence,” Barhorst said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have put on some good weight and have put the pounds on by really hitting the weight room. (They) are all pretty thick guys down low for us that can hit the boards. I think we can punish teams like that down low.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.