PIQUA — Jackson Center saw an early 11-point lead almost disappear in the second and third quarters of a Division IV sectional final on Thursday.
A spark from junior guard Carson Regula helped the squad get a double-digit lead again.
The Tigers scored 11 straight points to open the fourth quarter and pulled away to a 50-35 win over Fairlawn at Piqua’s Garbry Gymnasium to advance to a district semifinal. Jackson Center (18-6) will play Russia, which beat Lehman Catholic in Thursday’s first sectional semifinal, on Saturday in Piqua.
Though the Tigers beat Fairlawn by seven and 16 points in Shelby County Athletic League matchups in regular season, coach Scott Elchert said he wasn’t surprised Thursday’s game was tight through three quarters.
“We knew that they always play us tough,” Elchert said. “… What I was most surprised about was the lead that we got up to. I think that was a good thing, but in a roundabout way, I think that was a bad thing, because we got away from the things that we needed to do.”
Jackson Center will try to advance to its third consecutive district final on Saturday. The Tigers beat Russia 57-35 and 55-30 in SCAL matchups.
“We get to do it again, play another County team for the third time,” Elchert said. “History tells me that that’s typical. Four County teams normally get to play for a chance to get out of here.
“We’re going to embrace the opportunity and know that it’s quite the challenge. That’s this time of the year.”
Regula hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter to help Jackson Center build an 18-7 lead.
The Tigers’ offense stalled in the second quarter, and Fairlawn clawed back. Senior guard Ashton Piper hit a 3 from several feet behind the arc as time expired to cap off an 11-3 scoring edge in the quarter that cut the gap to 21-18 at halftime.
Fairlawn stayed close throughout the third quarter. The Jets came as close as three points twice, but Regula helped the squad pull away.
Regula hit a late free throw in the third quarter to push Jackson Center’s lead to 29-25 heading into the fourth, then opened the final quarter by splitting another pair of free throws and following soon after with a steal and layup. He then added a 3-pointer to put the team ahead 35-25.
“He came up big for us all night,” Elchert said. “He got us out to that great lead, and he actually gave us the momentum again to get us started in the fourth quarter. To be honest, we were running low. Our battery was almost dead, and he was the jump start that we needed in that fourth quarter.”
Regula led Jackson Center with 20 points. Jace Mullenhour added 10 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. Camdyn Reese scored eight and Aidan Reichert, who was recently named the SCAL player of the year, finished with seven.
Piper finished with 17 points while Drew Maddy scored seven.
Fairlawn finishes 8-15 overall. The Jets will lose nine seniors to graduation, including guards Ashton and Skyler Piper, who both had over 1,000 career points. The squad will also lose Maddy, Jackson Jones, Kyle Peters, Chris Puckett, Garhett Keener, James Cotterman and Pierre Masquelier to graduation.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.