The County boys basketball leaders will be in preservation mode Friday night, trying to avoid what would be big upsets and stay atop the league standings.
Anna knocked off Russia Tuesday, and those two are now tied for second behind league-leading Jackson Center.
Anna has the bye Friday, but the other two are in action, with Russia hosting Fort Loramie and the Tigers traveling to Botkins.
Fairlawn, coming off a good road win over Loramie Tuesday, invades a rejuvenated Houston, which has won two of its last three games.
On Saturday, Anna is back in action at home against Lehman. Otherwise, the schedule is light, with Jackson Center hosting New Bremen and Russia staying home to face Versailles in their annual backyard brawl.
Jackson Center 7-1 (12-2)
Anna 7-2 (10-6)
Russia 6-2 (12-3)
Fairlawn 4-5 (9-6
Loramie 3-6 (6-10)
Botkins 2-7 (5-10)
Houston 1-7 (5-9)
Jackson at Botkins
Loramie at Russia
Fairlawn at Houston
Lehman at Anna
New Bremen at Jackson
Versailles at Russia
While everyone else in the County played Tuesday night, the Tigers rested and got in plenty of preparation for the Botkins Trojans, who come to town Friday night. They also moved into sole possession of first place with Russia’s loss to Anna.
Jackson is going into the weekend off a loss, a rarity for coach Scott Elchert’s program. The Tigers won Friday night in County play, but had a tough night Saturday at Marion Local.
“Even though we got in foul trouble and it hurt us, we as a team made some bad decisions to put ourselves in that position,” said Elchert, whose team is 12-2. “We were very careless with the ball, which is uncharacteristic. We turned the ball over 15 times, and we’re only averaging seven a game, and a lot of them were unforced.”
But the Tigers won the most important of the two games, Friday night over a Houston team they beat by only two early in the year.
“Winning the league games are the most important thing at this point,” said Elchert. “To keep ourselves in position in the league, knowing we have tough games coming up.”
The Tigers stay home Friday to face a Botkins team that has been up and down in recent games. The Trojans lost by 30 at Russia, came within two of upsetting Anna in their next outing, but then lost 62-39 last Friday at home to Fort Loramie.
“From our standpoint, we know which team will show up Friday night,” said Elchert. “The thing that always impresses me about them is that they just continue to battle night in and night out. We had them down 12 or 14 last time, but they came right back at us.”
Elchert is pleased with the way his team is coming along, especially the younger players.
“I feel like we’re making strides,” he said. “I felt like last week was a good week for our younger kids. Trent Platfoot (freshman) hit a couple of big shots off the bench, (sophomore) Bryce Sosby continues to grow and (sophomore) Gavin Booser had an overall solid weekend.”
The Rockets played one of their best games of the season Tuesday in knocking off the Russia Raiders, the No. 12-ranked team in Division 4 in Ohio. And head coach Nate Barhorst said there was a sense of urgency out of his squad.
“Ever since we played Russia the first time around and lost to them, all the County games we’ve played have been to stay in contention,” said the Anna coach. “So we kept ourselves in it. Now we have this Friday off in the league, so we’re going to study the film of that game and look at the things we did well.”
The win came on the heels of a 13-point loss at home to the Minster Wildcats on Saturday, a verdict that surprised some people.
“We kinda talked after that game about making mistakes,” he said. “We told the kids they can’t be afraid to make a mistake out there. They have to play with confidence and move on. And I thought we did that Tuesday.”
The Rockets now prepare for a rivalry game, albeit in non-league play. The Lehman Cavaliers come to town Saturday night, and even though it’s an exceedingly young Lehman team, with three sophomore starters, it’s not a team to be taken lightly, especially after the Cavs gave the Sidney Yellow Jackets all they wanted last Saturday.
“All you have to do is say Anna-Lehman,” Barhorst said. “And you know it’s going to be a tough game. Even though they are young, you can’t overlook them. And we won’t.”
The Rockets are looking for their first win over the Cavaliers since the 2012-13 season.
The Redskins bounced back impressively last Friday from a three-game losing streak with a 23-point win at Botkins, but they returned home Tuesday and dropped a 54-47 verdict to Fairlawn, a team they beat by nine on the road back in December.
Head coach Corey Britton said the difference in those two recent games was obvious.
“Last week at Botkins, we were all over the floor, diving for loose balls and coming up with them,” he said. “Tuesday night, Fairlawn did that to us. We have to do a better job on the toughness plays. I’m not disappointed with the effort. The kids continue to play hard. We just need to get a little tougher.”
Britton’s squad needs to regroup in a hurry because they travel to Russia Friday night, and the Raiders will still be in a bad mood over their loss to Anna Tuesday, a loss that dropped them into second place behind Jackson Center in the County standings.
The Redskins can look back on a good effort the first time the two teams met — the game ended 35-32 in the Loramie gym.
“We need to bounce back against a very good team Friday,” said Britton. “Russia gets scoring from a lot of different kids, and they play a ton of players.”
The Redskins have gotten a surge of points from sophomore Dillon Braun, who appears to be dialed in from long range. In the win over Botkins Friday, he exploded for four three-pointers in the third quarter and five in all, then had four more Tuesday night in the loss to Fairlawn.
The Raiders haven’t tasted defeat much this season, but they did Tuesday night, and it left a bad taste in their mouths.
“All the credit goes to Anna,” said Russia coach Spencer Cordonnier, whose team is now tied for second in the County, behind Jackson Center. “They came out and smacked us in the mouth. They were the aggressors, and with their size and athleticism, they just took control of the game and handled us.”
But the real reason for the loss?
“We just got killed on the boards,” he said. “We told the kids that whoever won the battle of the boards would win the game. And as an example of how it went, we had eight offensive rebounds as a team, and Kain Luthman (of Anna) had eight offensive rebounds by himself.”
The Raiders will try to shake off the effects of the loss, but they have to learn from it, the coach said.
“Our job is to not let it happen again,” he said. “There’s no excuse for getting outrebounded like we did (Tuesday) night. I don’t care how big your opponent is, you can box out. But we didn’t get bodies on people. And we were on our heels defensively. We had a conversation, and we told them we have to learn from it. If we don’t, there are two more coming our way this weekend.”
He was referring to the Raiders’ opponents. Friday is Fort Loramie in County play. Saturday is the annual backyard brawl with the Versailles Tigers. Needless to say, Friday is the most important, the way the league is shaping up.
“Fort Loramie is a dangerous team, and much better than their record (6-10) shows,” Cordonnier said. “I’m not worried about our focus Friday with the Versailles game Saturday. The kids know the league is our first goal, and they know what’s on the line. We control our own destiny where the league is concerned.”
The Trojans brought a smile to their coach’s face in the opening quarter Tuesday night at Houston, jumping out to a double-figure lead.
But they suddenly began to struggle, and Houston was able to use free throws late to come away with a victory.
“We got out early and beat them down the floor,” said Botkins coach Brett Meyer. “We seem to play better when we’re running like that. But it basically came down to turnovers. I think we had 19 and they had seven. And Houston shot in the low to mid 20s in the first half, then up close to 60 percent in the second.”
The Trojans turned the ball over on their last two possessions of the third quarter and on the first six possessions of the final period. But even with that, they had a free throw that would have tied the game up with two minutes to go.
Now the Trojans have to face league-leading Jackson Center Friday night, and as Meyer said, “they’re going to be a little mad after the Marion Local game (loss).”
“I was just listening to the Big Ten Network, and they were talking about how on a given night, any team can beat any other,” Meyer said. “And that’s how the league is this year. But we definitely have to be focused and ready to play.”
Botkins has had a hectic schedule, playing nine games in the month of December. Friday will be the sixth game this month, but when that game is over, the Trojans will have a lengthy and well-deserved layoff, not returning to action until Feb. 5 at Fairlawn.
The Wildcats are coming on of late, having won two of their last three. And one of the reasons could be the play of 6-2 senior Zach Jolly.
“Zach has been coming on strong lately, and he did the same thing last year,” said his coach, John Willoughby. “He’s a realy good defender becuase of his long arms. He was the top rebounder last season and is close to that this year. And he usually defends the best post player. I would like to see him score a little more, but he’s doing a good job.”
The Wildcats will try to make it three in a row and four out of five Friday night, but it won’t be easy with the Fairlawn Jets coming to town.
The first time the two teams met at Fairlawn, the Jets came away with a 45-38 victory. So it appears to be an even matchup.
However, the Jets have the County’sbest scorer in junior Nathan Lessing, who has turned 30-point nights into an average evening.
“The first time we played them, they started a big lineup against us,” said Willoughby. “And Lessing alwayus gives us fits because of his size and he knows how to play the game. He’s a tough matchup for anybody, and we will pay a lot of attention to him.”
Willoughby wouldn’t commit on whether he will send him team out in a zone defense. It turned the tide Tuesday night against Botkins.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ve tried it off and on because of our matchups. So we’ll have to wait and see.”
The Jets had a tough loss Friday night to Anna at home, but bounced back well from that game to post two wins in a row, including a 54-47 victory at Fort Loramie Tuesday night.
It was their fifth win in the last seven outings and gave them nine victories for the season. The loss to Anna dropped them to five league losses, so a County title is out of reach. But they can still determine who sits atop the final standings.
The Jets had a rare Wednesday night game at Mechanicsburg, and will come right back and play at Houston Friday. In all, the Jets are in the midst of a streak of five straight road games, not returning home until Feb. 5 against Botkins.
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818