4th-quarter rally comes up short for Jasper

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Evansville North's Kaliah Neighbors, left, and Kenna Hisle pressured Jasper's Reagan Egbert during Tuesday's Class 4A girls basketball sectional opener in Jasper. Jasper's second half rally fell just short as the Wildcats were outsted in the sectional opener by the Huskies, 53-49. For more photos from the game, click here.


JASPER — When the Jasper Wildcats girls basketball team looked at the scoreboard Tuesday night and saw they’d scored only four first-quarter points and 17 by halftime, their 11-game winning streak when the girls went undefeated in December must have seemed so far away.

Conversely, the Evansville North Huskies — a mascot that thrives in the frigid temperatures and snowy environment of the arctic, which southwestern Indiana resembled beyond the confines of the Jasper High School gymnasium — looked nothing like a team that had lost as many games as it had won this season.

But as the inspirational saying goes, everybody starts 0-0 in the postseason. And by the time the clock hit zeroes for the final time in the first round of the Class 4A Sectional, the Wildcats were 0-1. Their frenetic comeback, in which they pulled to within a point on two occasions in the final 94 seconds, fell just short at 53-49.

“I’m pretty proud of their effort in coming back,” head coach Jessica Mehringer said of her team, which trailed by as many as 15 points midway through the second quarter. “We had a great year, and they have to keep that in mind. One game doesn’t define their season, even though that doesn’t allow them to continue to play.

“They played their hearts out, and they gave themselves a chance to be able to win this game, and that’s all you can ask for,” Mehringer said.

To be sure, the first half belonged to the Huskies. Evansville North (12-11) owned a 14-4 advantage by the end of the first quarter, and stretched that to 29-17 by halftime.

But when the Wildcats (15-8) emerged in the second half, it was as if someone had convinced them that it was still the last month of 2018. Jasper not only outscored the Huskies in both the third and fourth periods, but scored as many points in each of those quarters as it did the entire first half.

“We made some adjustments at halftime, and we hit some shots, too,” Mehringer said. “We didn’t hit very many shots in the first half, and [Evansville North] didn’t miss very many in the first half.”

The Huskies blanketed the court with a full-court press from the start to disrupt Jasper’s offensive scheme, and the Wildcats obliged by managing only a field goal and free throw by Emma Shelton, and a lone charity conversion by Reagan Egbert midway through the quarter.

Meanwhile, the Huskies — and particularly Kenna Hisle, who accounted for North’s first eight points and 10 in the quarter — were on fire. North continued its scoring efficiency in the second stanza, hitting a trio of three-pointers for a 25-10 cushion with 4:38 left in the half.

“We tried a couple of different defenses to see if we could kind of slow them down a little bit,” Mehringer said of her team’s first-half efforts. “We were going to make them hit a shot, and they did. Kudos to them for knocking down shots whenever we were trying to challenge certain people to do that.”

But when the Big Eight Conference champion Wildcats came out for the second half, the Huskies got a taste of their own medicine. Jasper employed a ball-hawking full-court press, which rallied the Wildcats to pull to within 31-28 at the three-minute mark. The Huskies found their footing to swell their lead back to double digits with less than a minute to go in the period, before Jasper made it a 39-32 game heading into the fourth frame.

“It slowed [North] down from being able to do what they wanted to do, and it got us a little bit more fired up,” Mehringer said of Jasper’s full-court press in the second half. “I think that was the spark plug we needed. We probably could have started doing that a little earlier than what we did, but it was a good effort, and we had a chance.”

Jasper's Kortney Ruhe slaps her teammates' hands after her name was announced at the start of Tuesday's Class 4A girls basketball sectional opener in Jasper. Ruhe and Rachel Gress played their final games for the Wildcats as they were the only two seniors on Jasper's girls basketball roster. For more photos from the game, click here.

The Wildcats stayed within striking distance throughout the final period, and brought the crowd to its feet on several occasions — especially on a backwards, over-her-head layup by Claire Knies, who had a game-high 15 points — as the Jasper faithful sensed a season-saving comeback.

After North missed its fifth consecutive free throw, Kortney Ruhe got a point-blank bucket to pull Jasper within a point at 48-47 with 1:34 remaining, then converted a layup for her 12th and 13th points with 1:18 left for a 50-49 score.

But a parade to the charity stripe — the Huskies shot 23 free throws in the fourth quarter alone — sealed the verdict for North.

While the Huskies were homesteading at the foul line for most of the second half, the Wildcats were frustrated by an uncharacteristic futility from beyond the arc, a 1-for-18 night that belied the success they had throughout the season.

“That’s not very indicative of how we usually shoot from the perimeter,” Mehringer pointed out. “If we could have just knocked down the long shot, it would have helped us a lot.”

Although disappointed, Mehringer tried to remain optimistic about Jasper’s future.

“We’re going to be OK. We’ll miss [seniors] Kortney and Rachel (Gress), because they’re great kids and awesome basketball players, and they play with a lot of heart and hustle and effort and energy.”

The Wildcats return 14 players who suited up for the final game, and four starters.

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