Determined Wildcats advance to title game

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Jasper's Reece Milligan goes up for a layup during Friday's Class 4A boys basketball sectional game in Evansville. Milligan led the Wildcats with 18 points, including 12 free throws, as Jasper used a strong fourth quarter to defeat Evansville North 57-49. The Wildcats will face Evansville Reitz in the sectional championship tonight at 8 p.m. EST.


EVANSVILLE ― If you were there, you were on the edge of your seat.

It looked like old habits might have caught up with the Jasper boys basketball team as a 6-2 start was dulled by a first quarter blitz from Evansville North. But even with a barren first half, the Wildcats were able to withstand their drought and chip away at their mountain climb until a fourth quarter rally allowed the Wildcats to defeat the Huskies 57-49, sending them back to the sectional title game for the first time in three years.

Jasper head coach coach John Goebel said that early fouls caused him to sit his entire starting lineup late in the first half and guys like Carter Stamm, Kyle Hedinger, Elliot Hopf, Dillon Sternberg and Caleb Burger had to step in and shoulder the load while the Wildcats (15-9) tried to survive until the second half. But more than just that, Goebel credits his bench with giving the Wildcats the lift they needed to mount the eventual comeback.

“I’m really proud of the toughness we showed tonight,” he said. “In the first half we got into foul trouble, we had some kids on the floor that don’t see a lot of playing time. It was a tough situation; I thought their energy at the end of the first half changed the momentum of the game for us.”

Senior forward Jared Englert was first on the board thanks to an early visit to the free throw line followed by a cut inside for a layup, then junior guard Jackson Kabrick layed another one in as Jasper got out to a 6-2 lead four minutes into the game. However, a jumper from senior center Adam Billingsly and another basket from sophomore guard Dwan Redding Jr. flipped the script 7-6 in favor of the Huskies. Senior forward Adam Bury drilled a three and Redding struck again with two shots from the charity stripe to create separation between the Huskies and Wildcats; Bury knocked in his second three with a minute left to extend the run to 13-0. Senior guard Josh Weidenbenner moved in for a shot inside, but Redding hit back with a jumper on the other end to give the Huskies a 17-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Kabrick drove in to earn his first trip to the line to start the second, hitting 1-of-2 for his effort. Billingsly pulled the same move for the Huskies the next possession, knocking in both his shots. Kabrick closed the gap a bit with back-to-back scores to make it a six-point game, but four points from Redding kept North safely out in front, 23-13. Englert and senior forward Phillip Nobblitt hit three of their four free throws to cut it to seven. Sophomore guard Chandler Moore and junior forward Quentin Harmon both split their shots from the line, while scores from Redding and Stamm closed out the second quarter with North ahead 25-19.

Englert opened the third quarter with a layup to make it a two-possession game, Bury hit his third three-pointer in response. Senior guard Reece Milligan knocked in a three right back, but Billingsly was able to get position on the block inside and turn in another basket. Redding followed up by turning a steal into a fast break basket to put the Huskies up 32-24. But the Wildcats kept plugging away as Weidenbenner made it to the free throw line and Milligan hit a second three to make it a one possession game with 2:55 left in the third. Redding and Milligan exchanged 2-for-2 trips to the foul line, and another Bury three gave the Huskies a five-point lead.  Billingsly followed suit with three points the hard way to extend the lead 40-32 with less than a minute remaining in the quarter. Milligan fought his way to the free throw line one last time before the end of the third, hitting both to send Jasper into the fourth down 40-34.

Finally the basket widened for the Wildcats. Kabrick struck with four quick points to make it a one possession game, and Englert finally tied it up 40-40 with a corner jump shot with 7:30 left in the game. Nobblitt’s two free throws gave Jasper their first lead since the first quarter, and Milligan added to the run with two more free throws after a technical foul was called on senior forward Seth Seniour.  Milligan went one for two again in the ensuing possession, and Kabrick made a 12-0 run with a midrange jumper. Redding put in a layup for a Husky offense that suddenly went cold, but it would prove to be too little, too late. Jasper hit seven of their last ten free throws, outscoring North 23-9 in the fourth, and with that punched their ticket to the sectional finals.

Milligan had 18 points, while Englert and Kabrick both finished with 14. Redding led all scorers with 22 points, Bury had 12, and Billingsly finished with 11. Moore also had nine rebounds.

“It wasn’t the prettiest, that showed on the scoreboard in the first half,” said Milligan. “I love the way we fought in the second half. We knocked down some shots we didn’t in the second half. We’ve been down at halftime a lot during the season, but one thing about us is we don’t quit.”

Jasper's Caleb Burger is all smiles after the final buzzer sounds on the Wildcats semifinal victory.

“I think we played amazing at the end,” added Englert. “We really just manned up and closed out the game the right way with free throws and defensive stops. North is a good team, but we just brought the energy in the second half and stepped it up defensively. That’s ultimately what made us win tonight.”  

Goebel framed Friday’s win as a testament to the Wildcats’ fortitude as they moved past the things that didn’t go their way towards the end of the season in order to fight their way back to the sectional final where they will face the Evansville Reitz Panthers (12-11), who defeated the Evansville Central Bears 82-53 on Friday. But he hopes the boys aren’t just satisfied to be competing for a championship, as they need one more push to finish the run with the title.

“I hope they recognize we don’t want to look back and say ‘We played for a sectional championship’,” he said. “We would like to cut the nets down (tonight), and that’s going to take a heck of a lot of work. But they have to believe we can do that and it feels like we do.”

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