ANNA — Anna’s boys basketball team has a long-established reputation in the Shelby County Athletic League of an excellent transition offense. The Rockets’ high-scoring ability was on display last season, as they amassed an average of 67 points per game.
Botkins has joined the club in recent years since coach Sean Powell took over, and there’s another new member this year: Jackson Center.
The Tigers aren’t the methodical squad of recent years but instead are transition beasts. They showed their offensive prowess again on Tuesday as they rallied from a big early deficit to beat Anna 69-62.
“What we always try to do from one year to the next is to put our team in the best position to win based on what our personnel is,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert said. “This year, we feel like we have some personnel that is at their best when they’re going in transition and get some easy buckets.
“We’ve got a lot of guys capable of doing that, so we definitely look to go much more than we have in the last few years.”
Jackson Center finished 22-5 overall last year and second in the SCAL behind Anna. The Tigers — which averaged 45 points per game — advanced to a Div. IV regional final before COVID-19 derailed the remainder of the tournament.
The squad lost seven players to graduation but has five players back, including Aidan Reichert, who was voted the SCAL player of the year last year after averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The squad has several newcomers that were key players on a successful J.V. team last year.
The Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SCAL) are averaging 58.2 points per game. Reichert, a 6-foot-5 forward who plays all over the court, led the squad with 27 points on Tuesday.
Senior guard Trevor Sosby added 11 points while sophomores Camdyn Reese and Jace Mullenhour each scored 10. Sosby and Reese are returnees while Mullenhour is a newcomer. Sophomore newcomer Nolan Fark added seven points while junior returnee Carson Regula added four.
“From a scoring standpoint, we have a number of guys that score,” Elchert said. “Most anybody we’re putting out on the court at a given time can shoot the 3. I think anytime you can do that, that puts a little bit of pressure on the defensive team, since they can’t just focus on one or two people or one aspect of your game.”
The Tigers opened the year with losses to Botkins and Fort Loramie but have won seven straight. Elchert is pleased with the team’s progress but says defensive improvement is needed as the year continues. The squad is surrendering an average of 42 points per game — though that average is skewed by lopsided wins over winless Houston (67-15) and Waynesfield-Goshen (59-22).
“I still feel it’s possible to score at a high clip and still defend in the half court,” Elchert said. “We’re just not consistent enough right now with our team half-court defense. We just have too many breakdowns.”
Some of those breakdowns happened early in Monday as Anna jumped out to an 11-2 lead through the first four minutes of the first quarter.
Jackson Center finished with a 9-2 run to pull within 13-11 by the end of the quarter, and Reichert made a driving layup with 5:49 left in the second to give the squad its first lead of the game at 19-18.
“They gave us some fits all night with him inside. He’s a heck of a player,” Anna coach Nate Barhorst said. “They run everything through him, as they should.”
Reichert, who signed with Mercyhurst University in November, scored on a drive up the middle in the final seconds of the second to break a tie and put the Tigers ahead 29-27 at halftime. The teams continued to trade baskets in the third and were tied 41-41 heading into the fourth.
The Rockets (6-2, 3-2) took an early 45-43 lead in the last quarter but Jackson Center responded with a big run. Reichert made a 3 with 4:57 left to give the Tigers a 51-48 lead, which started an 11-1 run in about a two-minute span.
“I thought we showed some resiliency at a couple of stages,” Elchert said. “We weren’t getting any post touches early, and we have to have post touches. We got back to doing that.
“That stretch their in the fourth quarter was humongous. We were down and Sosby was out of the game (after fouling out). But we made some plays.”
Jackson Center pushed its lead as high as 12 points before Anna hit a couple late baskets to cut the final gap.
“We had a bad span there in the middle of the fourth,” Barhorst said. “We had some breakdowns there that led to some baskets for them and a couple of 3s that stretched out the lead, and it seemed to let the floodgates open up.
“We were able to fend that off a little bit, but you just can’t get down nine points or so to a team like that. We battled. I give all the credit to our kids. But it just boiled down to the little things. We knew rebounding was going to be key, and giving them second or third opportunities tonight was probably the nail in the coffin.”
The loss was the first for Anna since a 67-43 loss to Botkins on Dec. 4. The Rockets remain in contention for second place along with Jackson Center, Fort Loramie and Fairlawn. Each squad has two league losses; Botkins (7-0) is undefeated in SCAL play.
Anna finished 22-5 last year and advanced to regionals for the second straight year before losing to Dayton Stivers in a semifinal. The squad lost five seniors to graduation but has several key returnees, including junior guards Isaiah Masteller and McKane Finkenbine and senior forward Ben Kovacs.
Finkenbine scored 26 points on Tuesday while Masteller scored 20 and Kovacs scored 13.
“I think we’re definitely ahead of our plan from coming into the season,” Barhorst said. “These kids are hungry and they want to prove to people that they can play with anybody. They’ll scratch, they’ll claw, they’ll do everything they can to put themselves in the position to win.
Finkenbine has emerged as a scoring threat in recent weeks. He scored 32 points against Minster on Dec. 19 and followed with 25 points against Russia last week.
“He’s really settled into our plan and our attack mode of offense,” Barhorst said. “He and Isaiah Masteller are a great one-two punch. That’s the thing, if teams don’t guard all our guys, we can get back in the game really quickly. Jackson did a good job of getting out there and guarding us tonight.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.