PIQUA — Christopher Elchert has been hitting 3-pointers for Jackson Center since his freshman season three years ago. The scouting report has long been out on Elchert, who hasn’t seen many open shot opportunities as a senior.
With the Tigers trailing by six points early in the fourth quarter, Elchert got his only wide-open look of the game — and made a nothing-but-net basket from the top of the key to spark a decisive run.
“I’ve shot that shot a lot of times in my life,” Elchert, the son of coach Scott Elchert, said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me, threw it right in my pocket, and I was ready to fire.”
The 3 was the first of 10 unanswered points Jackson Center scored to rally and earn a 33-29 victory over Troy Christian in a Division IV district semifinal on Saturday at Piqua High School’s Garbry Gymnasium.
The win earns the squad its second consecutive district final berth and seventh in the last nine years. Both years Jackson Center hasn’t advanced in that stretch, it lost in third-round games.
“In this nine-year stretch since 2012, we’re 25-2 down here (in Piqua),” Scott Elchert said. “That’s not easy to do. This is a tough venue to get out of, having to battle teams from your own league (Shelby County Athletic League) and the other teams that feed in here.
“For the program, I’m extremely happy about that.”
The Tigers (20-5) have earned a district final berth despite losing two starters from last year’s regional finalist team. The squad also played on Saturday without normal starting guard Trevor Sosby, who was injured in an SCAL game against Fairlawn on Feb. 14.
The squad was also expecting to have post player Calvin Winner back this year, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in preseason for the second consecutive year.
“It says a lot about our guys and how hard they work,” Scott Elchert said of overcoming graduation and injury losses. “It’s been neat for all these kids to keep it up on this nine-year run. I was asking my freshmen about it, and they were in kindergarten (when it started). …It’s kind of cool from that standpoint.”
Jackson Center trailed by as many as seven points in the first half but took a 23-20 lead after Clay Akers hit a 3-pointer with 2:57 left in the third.
Connor Peters was fouled putting up a desperation shot at the buzzer and hit three foul shots to tie it heading into the fourth, then the squad scored the first six points of the quarter, with Peters capping off the run with a basket with 5:15 left.
“I think we showed great perseverance there,” Scott Elchert said. “We finally got some momentum and went up three points there in the third quarter, which was our first lead in the game. …Then the next thing you know, it’s early in the fourth quarter, and we’re back down six.
“I felt like Christopher let his senior leadership shine there on both ends of the floor and tried to put us on his back as much as he could tonight. It helped.”
Jackson Center leading scorer Aidan Reichert was contained by Troy Christian most of the night but helped the squad pull away late.
After Elchert’s 3 with five minutes left, Reichert made a free throw with 4:12 left to cut the gap to two points. Neither squad scored again until Reichert made a shot off the glass and hit a foul shot to complete a three-point play and give the Tigers a 30-29 lead with 1:28 left.
Camdyn Reese, a freshman, made a pair of foul shots with 52 seconds left to put the squad ahead by three points.
After Troy Christian missed a 3-pointer, Elchert was fouled going for a rebound and made 1-of-2 shots with 28 seconds left to push the lead to four.
The Eagles missed another two shots, and Jackson Center grabbed a rebound and ran out the clock.
“We just always keep our composure no matter what,” Christopher Elchert said. “We rely on our defense a lot and know that eventually we’re going to be able to lock people down. It’s just a matter of moving the ball offensively, taking care of it and knocking down shots ourselves.”
Reichert, who was recently named the SCAL’s player of the year, led the squad with 13 points.
Elchert scored 12 points, 10 of which came in the second half. He also guarded Troy Christian’s Christian Gray for most of the final three quarters after Gray scored 10 points in the first quarter. He scored two points the rest of the game.
Outside of the team’s locker room following the game, Scott Elchert said he tries not to talk much about Christopher. As assistant coach Tony Meyer walked by, Elchert said Meyer could verify that.
Meyer replied: “It’s time.”
“I have to tonight,” Elchert said. “He was a big difference maker tonight. …Gray had a great start to the game, but Christopher did a good job on him after that and had a great game on both ends of the floor.”
Jackson Center will face Cedarville in a district final on Friday at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center. It’ll be the first district final in the Tigers’ recent stretch not played at UD Arena, which normally hosts all Southwest district finals. The arena is unavailable due to Dayton hosting the Atlantic 10 women’s tournament next week.
“Our girls played in regionals at Butler (in 2016 and 2017), and I really liked that gym,” Christopher Elchert said. “It’s a great atmosphere, and we’re really excited to be playing.”
Cedarville improved to 20-5 with a 49-38 win over Franklin-Monroe in a district final on Saturday night at Troy High School. The Indians average 60.2 points per game and are led by Colby Cross and Trent Koenig, who average Ohio Heritage Conference-bests of 17.2 and 16.3 points per game, respectively.
“We’ve got some early scouting reports on them, and I know this, they’ve had a great year and have a nice team and have two really nice players,” Scott Elchert said. “We’ll do our work and we’ll be ready for Friday.”
Christopher Elchert said he thinks a grueling regular-season schedule has prepared the squad for tournament play. Aside from a tough SCAL slate that featured two matchups each with district finalists Fort Loramie and Anna, the squad had a loaded nonconference schedule that included the likes of Columbus Grove, which was ranked at or near the top of the D-IV state Associated Press poll all season.
“We’ve played a lot of good teams and we’ve been able to perform against a lot of good teams,” Elchert said. “I think we’re ready to go. Just need a good week of practice, and we’ll get a victory on (Friday).”
Gray scored all 10 of Troy Christian’s points in the first quarter, including a 3 from the left wing with 3:18 left that gave the squad a 10-3 lead.
Elchert scored on a drive in the last minute of the quarter, then Reichert started the second with a basket. Troy Christian scored four points over the next five minutes before Reichert hit a 3 from the left wing in the final minute to pull Jackson Center within 14-10 at halftime.
The Eagles scored the first two points of the third quarter, but Jackson Center battled back. Elchert hit a 3 and Reichert scored on a layup after a steal with 5:44 left to cut the gap to 18-15. Garrett Prenger made a basket with 4:04 left to cut Troy Christian’s lead to 20-17, then Elchert hit a 3 from the top of the key with 3:25 left to tie it 20-20.
Gray finished with 12 points while Peters scored nine for the Eagles, which finish 19-6. The squad will lose eight seniors to graduation.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.