Jackson Center Steals Regional from Minster
It was all lining up perfectly.
Jackson Center, the underdog on Saturday night, had pulled ahead late. Minster, the team expected to win, closed the gap in the waning moments and had a chance.
With just over eight seconds to go and trailing by two, the Wildcats had the ball and most importantly, the momentum.
And with one errant inbound pass, it was gone.
Kennadie Reese proved clutch for the Jackson Center. Darting in front of a Wildcat for the steal and then waiting foul that followed, Reese calmly walked to the charity stripe and converted both free throws to put the game on ice and give JC a 39-35 victory. She finished the game with 12 points to lead Jackson, hitting 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
The Tigers are heading back to the Columbus for the Final Four, having upset No. 2 ranked Tri-Village in the regional semi-final, and taking down No. 5 Minster in the final. A tough road by any measure.
Jackson Center controlled the action in the first quarter, with both teams conjuring up as many “BORING” chants from the Minster student section as they did points. (For the record, the score was 4-2. That’s not a typo).
Minster kicked the pressure up a notch, forcing some JC turnovers and moving out of its man-to-man defense and into a zone pressure. It sparked the offense, with senior Rosie Westerbeck leading what felt like an offensive explosion. When the halftime horn sounded, the Wildcats held a 14-13 advantage.
Coming out of the break, it was Minster once again controlling the pace of play. It was a multi-faceted attack, with the Wildcats showing their all of their strengths and jumping out to a 23-17 lead at the third quarter horn.
But while most opponents would have curled up and waited for the final eight minutes to pass, Jackson Center started to execute its gameplan.
Cassie Meyer was switched onto Rosie Westerbeck, and the senior became Westerbeck’s shadow, effectively limiting the Wildcats’ biggest offensive weapon in the game. The Tigers were getting open drives to the basket thanks to a simple high ball screen at the top of the key, and, most importantly, getting to the free throw line.
For the second straight game, the Tigers won the game by shooting well at the stripe. Jackson knocked down 20-of-25 free throws in the game for 80%. Minster was 12-of-20 for 60%.
In the end, Jackson Center outscored Minster 22-12 in the final quarter, going to the free throw line 19 times and connecting on 15. (And playing what had been described to me after missing the Tri-Village win as “ugly basketball”. Once again proving that it’s better to win ugly than lose pretty.)
After watching this Jackson Center team play, it’s easy to believe in their formula for winning. Add to that that it’s a group that already knows what it takes to win a state title (with two volleyball championships under their belts), and has made this trip to Columbus before, you can bet they won’t be viewed as the underdogs next week.