By John Bombatch
KETTERING — An exciting Yellow Springs comeback fell just short, in Friday night’s Division IV regional championship game at James S. Trent Arena.
The Jackson Center Tigers (24-4) withstood the Bulldog rally to claim a 46-39 win.
Yellow Springs fell behind by as many as 16 points in the first half, but battled back to within three points of Jackson Center, before the Tigers could overcome enough late-game nerves to sink a few free throws.
After a lengthy final-game locker room chat with his down-trodden players, Yellow Springs coach Steve Grasso said his team had plenty to feel good about, despite the loss.
“We’re just so proud of what we’ve built here. We really started from scratch with a group of sophomores. It’s really amazing with just how far we’ve come. By all means, those guys should come out of the locker room with their heads held higher than ever before,” Grasso said. “This is only the third Yellow Springs team in history to make the regional final, and we had the ballgame within one possession in the fourth quarter. We didn’t shoot as well as we normally do, but that’s a credit to Jackson Center. They’re the best defensive team we’ve played all year.
“A couple of those threes that we normally make, didn’t go in. We make those and we’re right back in it.”
Yellow Springs (21-7) didn’t hit a 3-point shot until the fourth quarter. Ethan Dewine’s 3-point bomb from the right corner pulled the Bulldogs to within five points (36-41) with just under three minutes left to play. Then Isaiah Taylor’s trey from off the right wing pulled Yellow Springs to within three (39-42) with 24.5 seconds left to play.
With Yellow Springs forced to foul in order to stop the clock, Jackson Center had plenty of free-throw tries in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers kept things interesting by hitting only 8 of 17 free throws in the quarter.
The Tigers’ leading scorer for the game — 6-foot-6 junior center Brady Wildermuth — finished with a game-high 19 points, but he missed five of his eight tries from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
“We got a bit shaky from the free-throw line in that final quarter and it was almost costly,” Jackson Center coach Scott Ellert admitted. “This is a very good Yellow Springs team we faced. All I needed to know was this: They beat Tri-Village and the beat a very good Lima Perry team to get here. Those are two very high quality teams, so we knew our work was going to be cut out for us tonight.
“Maybe with that 16-point lead, we maybe started to let our guard down a bit.”
Drew Sosby, the Division IV Southwest District Player of the Year, was limited to nine points by the Bulldog defense. Wildermuth had his 19, and senior forward Ethan Zorn was the other Tiger in double-figure scoring with 10.
Grasso started his five seniors. Senior Kaner Butler led the Bulldogs with 17 points scored and fellow senor Isaiah Taylor finished with 13. The other three seniors who played their final games for Yellow Springs were: Ethan Dewine (seven points), Devon Perry and Jonathan Clark.
Jackson Center will now face either Mansfield St. Peters (24-3) or top-ranked Van Wert Lincolnview (25-1) at 2 p.m. Friday, March 18 at Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.