Cats secure first Big Eight crown since 2012



PRINCETON — It’s no secret that the Jasper girls basketball team has had some rather rowdy celebrations in their locker room following some big wins this year.

But after securing their team’s first Big Eight conference title since 2012? Well, it was time for a celebration to top all celebrations.

“Oh it was extremely loud, we were all screaming and jumping up and down,” said junior guard Lexie Jerger about the Cats 56-42 victory over Princeton on Thursday. “I think most of us are getting pretty close to losing our voices from screaming at a high pitch.”

Jasper head coach Jessica Mehringer said the celebration was well deserved as the Wildcats finished a perfect 6-0 in conference play and wrapped up the regular season with a 15-7 overall record.

“This was probably our best team win — they were just so excited for one another and the program,” Mehringer said. “They put themselves in a position to be able to clinch today and they were all pretty excited.”

The first half was an extremely back-and-forth battle between the Cats and Tigers as Jasper was able to gain a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter and stretch that lead to four points at the halftime break, 18-14.

Immediately from the start, the Wildcats were playing shorthanded as senior guard Kortney Ruhe was out with a stomach bug. Add to the fact that forwards Reagan Egbert and Claire Knies picked up a couple early fouls, the Cats had to hit their bench rather early.

It was there that Jasper found some of their biggest performances of the night — even if they didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

“Lexie (Jerger) came in and gave us so many hustle plays — she was diving out of bounds and jumping for loose balls. She was just a spark plug for us,” Mehringer said. “Kara (Krueger) played almost the entire second quarter for us and got a lot of varsity time in a game against a Princeton team whose guards are super, super quick and Izzy (Blazey) came in and defended (Hannah) Sisk — Princeton’s best kid.”

Being a spark plug is something that Jerger prides herself on and she was glad the role paid off immensely in Thursday night’s road victory.

“I just look at myself as a defensive player,” Jerger said. “I know if I don’t do that then I better hustle and work harder because I need steals — that’s what I’m good at.”

Jasper started to pull away just a little bit in the third quarter as they jumped out to a 35-25 lead at the end of the period. They kept their foot on the gas in the fourth quarter as they led by as many as 18 points before holding on for the 56-42 victory.

Claire Knies led Jasper with a season-high 25 points (10-of-14 shooting, 3-of-4 from three-point) while senior Rachel Gress finished with eight points and Reagan Egbert and Emma Shelton both finished with seven points each.

The Cats also forced 15 Princeton turnovers and shot well from three-point (46 percent) and the free-throw line (70 percent).

With back-to-back victories over Big Eight foes Mount Vernon and Princeton to end the regular season, the Wildcats are feeling rather confident as they head into postseason play against Evansville North (10-11).

“The big factor is that our kids really trust each other,” Mehringer said. “When we play our intense defense and we’re locked in — I tell them if you play hard, you’re hard to beat.”

Jerger added: “We’re feeling really good about this win and now we’re just really ready for sectional. We have a really good attitude about it.”

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