DAYTON — Jackson Center had a tough task to defend on Friday in a Division IV district final at UD Arena in Franklin-Monroe senior Ethan Conley, who was recently named first team D-IV all-Southwest district after averaging 27.3 points per game.
No other Div. IV team in Southwest Ohio was as prepared for such a challenge, though. The Tigers faced a meatgrinder in regular season with its slate of Shelby County Athletic League opponents — including Fort Loramie and Anna, which also advanced to district finals.
Then there’s the team’s nonconference schedule, which included the likes of Midwest Athletic Conference members Coldwater and Marion Local, which also earned district final berths.
The experience appears to have prepared Jackson Center well. The squad took a seven-point lead by halftime and never let Franklin-Monroe get closer than that in the second half of a 56-47 victory.
“We talked before we left the school today that our league schedule and facing five MAC schools and scrimmaging a couple others challenged us,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert said. “We always try to build our team from game one to now. We don’t try to change what we do, we just try to be the same team so that when the tournament rolls around, we’re our best.”
Jackson Center (21-5) advances to face Fort Loramie in a Div. IV regional semifinal at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Kettering Fairmont’s Trent Arena. Fort Loramie beat Cincinnati Christian in Friday’s first district final to advance.
The Tigers beat Fort Loramie both times the squads played in SCAL play in regular season.
“Inevitably, it happens,” Reichert said of facing an SCAL foe deep in the tournament. “I’m not surprised we’re playing them for a third time. I thought they had a good shot at winning tonight, and I thought we had a good shot against a very good opponent. I think it just speaks highly of the caliber of the teams in our league on a yearly basis.”
It’s Jackson Center’s first district title since 2016, but it’s the program’s fifth title in the last eight years. The Tigers have made a district final six times in the last eight years; their only loss was a close defeat to Tri-Village in 2017.
“That’s a tribute to our kids, not only our past kids but our kids currently here,” Elchert said.
Jackson Center finished the second quarter with a 6-3 run to push its halftime lead to 21-14. Christopher Elchert hit a deep 3 and a long jumper to push the team’s lead to 28-16 with 4:49 left in the third.
The squad led by double digits until Conley hit a 3 to bring the Jets within 37-30 early in the fourth quarter. TJ Esser hit a basket soon after to push the lead to 39-30, and Aidan Reichert later hit consecutive baskets to put Jackson Center ahead 45-34 with 2:53 left.
Franklin-Monroe (15-10) came no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“One of the first things I talked about was about how when Franklin-Monroe got down in its last two tournament games, they came back,” Elchert said. “It was usually a Conley 3 or something in that fashion that would spur it. We did make enough plays and made some free throws to prevent that.”
Conley finished with 10 points and shot 3 for 9 from the field. Elchert credited Reichert and Trent Plafoot for the defensive effort.
“We knew it was going to take a monumental effort, so we used Platfoot and Reichert on Conley, but obviously it was a collective unit depending on where the ball was,” Elchert said. “We wanted to make sure we were even further over in our gaps more than we typically are so that if he gets any kind of penetration with his spin move, we were sitting there.
“I thought we were pretty consistent with that, which is great, because that guy is phenomenal, with the way he scores in transition.”
Connor Crist led Franklin-Monroe with 13 points while Jordan Rhoades scored 12.
Reichert, a sophomore, led Jackson Center with 16 point while Trent Platfoot finished with 11. Christopher Elchert finished with 10 and Esser added eight.
“We did a good job of attacking off the dribble, but we weren’t happy with how we were attacking some in our normal half-court offense because we felt like we were doing way too much standing,” Elchert said. “They were switching almost everything, and we weren’t taking advantage of some of the switches.
“… We went to more of an open offense, because I felt that was the only thing we were running with some energy.”
The teams traded the lead a couple of times early. After Crist hit a 3 to put Franklin-Monroe ahead 8-6, Jackson Center went on a big run to take control before halftime.
Conley made a basket to put the Jets ahead 9-8 with 2:03 left in the first after Reichert tied it on a basket. Christopher Elchert hit a long jumper to put the Tigers ahead 10-9 with 1:38 left, then Trent Platfoot capped off a long possession with a layup on a drive with four seconds left to push Jackson Center’s lead to 12-9.
Elchert then opened the second quarter with a 3 from several feet behind the top of the key to push the lead to six points and made a pair of free throws with 2:36 left to increase the advantage to 19-12. The teams each made one basket before the end of the half.
Now Jackson Center will look for its first regional final berth since 2016. To make that happen, a third win over Fort Loramie will be needed. The Tigers beat the Redskins 40-34 on Dec. 14 in Fort Loramie and 39-36 on Jan. 25 in Jackson Center.
It’ll be the second time in the last three tournament games Jackson Center has faced an SCAL team for a third time this season. The Tigers beat Russia by one point in a sectional final last Saturday in Piqua.
“It’s probably going to come down to who makes their open shots,” Elchert said. “Both teams know each other’s tendencies really well. It’s just going to be a matter of execution and guys making big plays. That’s typically what those games come down to.
“… It’s neat and it’s exciting. I’m just blessed to be a part of it again. It’s great for this group here. This group of kids are very, very neat. Their chemistry is special.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.