JACKSON CENTER — Fourteen Ohio schools may be excited for state championship football games this weekend, but it’s basketball season for the rest of the state. That goes doubly for small schools without football, like many in Shelby and surrounding counties.
Scott Elchert said there’s always excitement around the start of the season in Jackson Center, where he’s coached the Tigers for 23 years.
Most area high school boys basketball teams will tip off the 2017-18 season this weekend. Thursday was the first day the Ohio High School Athletic Association allowed boys teams to play regular season games, while the girls were allowed to start last week.
Jackson Center will travel to Lehman Catholic to open the season on Friday. It’s the second consecutive year the programs have opened the season against each other. Jackson Center won last season’s matchup 54-38.
Though all programs have nearly a month’s worth of practices and scrimmages under their belt, Elchert said a team’s identity doesn’t really emerge until playing through a few full games.
“That first game is always interesting,” Elchert said. “You go through the preseason and play scrimmages, and typically from one quarter to the next, you’re clearing the scoreboard. You also don’t know from one quarter to the next if your top guys are playing the other team’s top guys. So it’s different… it’ll be different to get out there with the lights on in front of a big crowd and see how we perform.”
Long seasons are the norm for the Tigers, who have made the regionals four times in this decade and the state final four twice. They finished 18-7 last season and lost in a district final to Tri-Village.
Jackson Center lost two starters to graduation, including Brady Wildermuth, who was a first team all-Shelby County Athletic League selection a year ago. Wildermuth averaged 20.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
“We’re a relatively young team. We don’t have a whole lot of experience this year,” Elchert said. “I like this group and I like what we’ve shown. In the preseason, we’ve played with a lot of enthusiasm and heart. I believe this group has a lot of growth in front of them.”
Senior point guard Bryce Sosby is the team’s leading returning scorer. Sosby, who’s a three-year starter, averaged 8.4 points and 2.4 assists per game last season.
“I think Bryce can be that foundation and that glue,” Elchert said. “… Just his steady calmness I think will just help settle everybody else down once the game gets going.”
The Tigers have two other returning starters and several other returnees off of last season’s varsity team.
“All 12 of the guys dressing varsity have great chemistry,” Elchert said. “One of our biggest strengths going into the season is the comradery of the team. That’s always a big factor for any team in any sport. If you don’t have good chemistry, your chances of success aren’t very good usually.”
Lehman, which lost 54-38 to Jackson Center last season, has two starters back off of last season’s 10-13 team. Senior forward Kameron Lee led the Cavaliers with 16.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game last season. Among other key returnees are senior guard Preston Rogers and junior guard Elliott Gilardi.
Elchert said though no scouting of opponents is done during scrimmages, he feels the teams are plenty familiar with each other. They’ve faced off in nonconference games each season this decade.
“With Kameron Lee, they’ve got one dangerous player that is capable of shooting it from downtown and scoring in multiple ways,” Elchert said. “From an offensive standpoint, I know things are going to start with and through him. He’s not the only weapon; they’ve got other guys that can shoot the ball. Gilardi’s going to do a good job of running the show for them with his athleticism.”
Fort Loramie at Anna postponed
Anna and Fort Loramie’s boys basketball season opener, which was scheduled for Friday, has been postponed. The game will be played on Tuesday, Jan. 23 instead.
The game has been postponed to allow Anna students and staff to attend the funeral of Skyler Ludington, an Anna student who was killed in a hit-and-run on Nov. 23.
Fort Loramie will open the season on Saturday against New Knoxville, while Anna’s first game is Tuesday at New Bremen.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.