KETTERING — Jackson Center’s chances looked slim late in the fourth quarter of a Division IV regional final against St. Henry on Friday at Fairmont’s Trent Arena — but Trent Platfoot wanted some more practice.
Platfoot hit several big late shots in a superb second half and nearly led the Tigers to one of the biggest comebacks of the tournament.
A late nine-point deficit proved to be a bit too much for Jackson Center to overcome, as the Redskins held on for a 46-43 victory.
Jackson Center trailed 41-32 with 1:27 left, but Platfoot made four free throws and two 3-pointers to help the Tigers rally.
“We had an agreement before we left practice yesterday that we were going to meet for practice on Monday,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert said. “I think he was trying to carry through with the promise on that.”
Platfoot, a senior guard, scored 23 of Jackson Center’s 25 points in the second half. He led the squad 28 points.
“He was awesome,” St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck said. “We knew he was terrific, and that was a case of a senior not wanting to go home. Our hat’s off to him, because he was pulling up at 22-, 24-, 26-feet. At some point you’re hoping he misses some, but he didn’t.”
St. Henry (24-3) took control with a 9-0 run in the second half, but the Tigers made it close at the end.
Platfoot made a pair of free throws, then Aidan Reichert split a pair with 1:04 left to close the gap to six points. Platfoot grabbed the rebound after Reichert’s miss and was fouled on a put-back attempt and made two foul shots to bring Jackson Center within 41-37.
Platfoot hit a 3 with 35 seconds left to bring the Tigers within 43-40, then hit another with 21 seconds left to cut St. Henry’s lead to 45-43.
St. Henry missed a 1-and-1 opportunity on its next possession, and a Jackson Center player missed a mid-range jumper with about seven seconds left. Zach Niekamp got the rebound and was fouled and made one free throw to extend the lead to three.
Jackson Center missed a half-court heave at the buzzer.
“The fact that we fought back and put ourselves in a position to win it or tie it at the end of the game speaks to our kids’ characters,” Elchert said. “Just one play short I guess.”
TJ Esser finished with seven for Jackson Center and Reichert added six.
The Redskins shot 14 for 38 (36.8 percent) from the field while Jackson Center shot 11 for 37 (29.7 percent). Both coaches credited each other’s defenses for making good shots hard to find.
The Redskins made 14-of-18 free-throw attempts, including 5-of-7 in the final 43 seconds.
St. Henry owned a 35-20 rebounding advantage.
“Our game plan was limit Jackson Center’s 3s, dominate the glass and be mentally tougher than them,” Rosenbeck said. “I think (mental toughness) was pretty even; they’re a pretty well-coached team.”
Jackson Center finishes 22-6 overall. The Tigers will lose four seniors to graduation, including Platfoot. Esser, Sean March and Joey Irwin are also seniors.
“The thing that stuck out to me really early in the season was the chemistry of our 13 guys,” Elchert said. “I mean that. All the guys, including the support players, have just been great in their roles. The fact that this team came together after starting the year by losing our 6-foot-5 junior center (Calvin Winner) shows (their toughness). We had to overcome that obstacle right from the get-go.”
Jackson Center will return several key players, including Reichert and juniors Jerron Reese and Christopher Elchert, who also started on Friday. Winner, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s first scrimmage, should also be back on the court.
The Tigers led 18-17 after a first half that saw seven lead changes.
St. Henry scored the first five points of the third quarter on a tip-in and 3-pointer by Zach Niekamp, but Platfoot hit a 3 with four minutes left and made a jumper and free throw to put the Tigers ahead 24-22 with 3:22 left.
Jay Knapke made a basket and a pair of free throws to put St. Henry ahead 26-24 with 50 seconds left. After Platfoot hit two free throws with 25 seconds left, Knapke maneuvered his way around a defender in the post and scored a shot off the glass right before the buzzer to put the Redskins ahead 28-26.
The Redskins kept the run going in the fourth after moving to their “four corners” offense. Caden Niekamp scored a basket to open the quarter, then Knapke made a basket. Zach Niekamp hit a 3 from the right corner to put the Redskins ahead 35-26 with 4:20 left.
“We know they’re very, very good in their spread, and very efficient in it,” Elchert said. “We were hoping to avoid that situation, because if we have the lead, they can’t jump into that. But they got that two-point lead at the end of the third and came right out in that in the fourth.
“We missed some rotations, and the big thing was that rebounding crunched us in the second half. We missed some shots and went frozen, where you’re just staring at the bucket and not getting in a position to explode on the ball.”
Zach Niekamp led St. Henry with 15 points while Knapke scored 11 and Caden Niekamp added nine.
Reichert hit two free throws and Esser completed a three-point play to give Jackson Center a 5-1 lead with 4:14 left in the first quarter, but Matt Bertke made a 3 shortly after to make it a one-point game.
After both teams came up empty on several offensive possessions, Caden Niekamp made a basket in the paint to put the Redskins ahead 6-5. Esser made a 3 from the left wing with 54 seconds left to give the Tigers an 8-6 lead at the end of the first.
There were four lead changes in the second quarter, the last of which came on a basket by Platfoot with 3:23 left, which put Jackson Center ahead 15-14. He followed with a 3 a minute later to boost the lead to four.
Neither team scored until the final seconds, when Ethan Thieman scored on a shot off the glass and hit a free throw to complete a three-point play and make it a one-point game at halftime.
“We ran through a couple of stretches, especially in the first half, where we took forced, quick shots,” Elchert said. “They’re a darn good defensive team. Some of our shooting woes was a tribute to the Redskins, but we took a couple of just too-quick shots that weren’t in the flow of our offense.”
St. Henry advances to play Berlin Hiland in a Div. IV state semifinal next Friday at noon at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Berlin Hiland (27-1), which was the No. 1 ranked D-IV team in the final state Associated Press poll, beat New Boston Glenwood 75-32 in a regional final on Friday at Ohio University.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.