Raider comeback bid falls short as Cats prevail

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper’s Austin Simmers soared up high to grab a rebound in Jasper’s 55-51 victory over county rival Southridge in Huntingburg Memorial Gym. The Raiders nearly completed a come-from-behind victory on the night their football team received their state championship rings but some late defensive stops from the Cats sealed the deal. For more photos from the game, click here.


HUNTINGBURG — At 9.3 points per game and 36 percent shooting from the three-point line, Jasper senior guard Justin Persohn is known as one of the Wildcats’ deadliest offensive weapons.

But on Tuesday night against Southridge, Persohn didn’t need to score for the Wildcats to be successful — he let his other skill sets do the talking.

At the 1:59 mark in the second quarter, the Cats designed a post play for Persohn, but after some defensive maneuvering by the Raiders, it turned out to be one of the nicest assists Persohn has thrown during his tenure at Jasper.

“I saw Ben (Elliott)’s guy double-down on me when I was in the post and the ball got loose and headed out of bounds so I jumped up, got it and somehow just kind of winged it to (Elliott) perfectly,” said Persohn, who finished with three assists and a key late steal in the Wildcats’ 55-51 victory over the Raiders.

While the Wildcats were up 36-20 at the time of Persohn’s flashy pass, things got much more interesting in the second half at Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium.

Trailing 50-45 with 1:21 to play, Southridge called a timeout to plan for some plays to run as they searched for a major comeback victory.

The Raiders had trimmed down the lead in the second half play-by-play and now had a chance to strike.

Southridge went to sophomore Garrett Voegerl who put in a two-point shot to trim the Wildcat lead to just three points, but the 6-foot-2 guard wasn’t done quite yet. Voegerl and junior Jaden Hayes crowded the baseline to force a Jasper turnover on the inbound pass and Voegerl picked it up to cut the Wildcat lead to one.

After Eric Nordhoff and Jackson Kabrick knocked down free-throws for the Cats, Southridge found themselves down 54-51 with 17 seconds left. Matt Price attempted to find Voegerl once again for some more late-game heroics but instead it was Persohn who made a game-saving steal with seven seconds left to seal the victory for the Wildcats.

Southridge’s Jayce Harter and Logan Seger watched the final minutes play out as the Raiders dropped their fourth consecutive game. Raider coach Ted O’Brien is hoping his team will use their impressive second-half performance as a momentum booster for their final regular season game and the postseason. For more photos from the game, click here.

“When the ball isn’t going down for him, (Justin) doesn’t keep forcing it. He tries to find other ways to win and he’ll set his mind to defending and distributing the basketball and that’s the mark of a smart athlete,” Wildcat head coach John Goebel said. “I know he wants to score points and we want him to score points as well, but when someone can understand there’s more to the game than just that, that makes a good player.”

In the first half, especially the second quarter, the Cats (13-8) fired on all cylinders. There was a span of about three minutes where Josh Weidenbenner (six points on 2-for-2 three-point shooting) and Austin Simmers (11 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals) hit everything they saw and Simmers’ scrappy play forced Raider turnovers left and right.

Why does Simmers like the scrappy play so much?

“On those heads-up plays, you can just force bad turnovers for the other team,” Simmers said about a few plays of his, such as the one where he forced a turnover on an inbound play by causing the Southridge player to move his foot over the line before the ball had been thrown and another play where he snuck behind his man to get a steal and the Wildcats a quick transition bucket.

For the Raiders (9-13), who have now lost four games in a row, this loss stung and will be in the back of their minds for a while. But at the same time, the effort the Raiders showed to get back in the game after trailing by 16 points at halftime gives Southridge head coach Ted O’Brien hope.

“That’s probably the best half of basketball that we’ve played this season — both offensively and defensively,” O’Brien said about the Raiders’ second-half intensity.

“We moved the ball more in the second half, we forced Jasper to wear down and we forced them to play defense and it seems like the same thing is happening every game. In the first half, we come in, make one or two passes and a shot goes up and we’re not forcing the defense to work at all, but in the second half we start to move the basketball. Four losses in a row is tough to handle and tough to swallow but we at least have something in that second half to build from and take forward.”

What O’Brien wants to see moving toward the end of the season is more balanced play in terms of scoring. The Wildcats took Colson Montgomery out of his usual high-scoring affair (he finished with just five points) but was still very active on defense and finding open teammates, which led to more shots for Hayes and Voegerl.

O’Brien thought Hayes was aggressive and confident, which resulted in one of the best performances of the season for the 6-foot-6 junior (team-high 21 points) while Voegerl continued to show more strengths on both sides of the ball (finished with eight points).

“We knew that Garrett was an offensive-first player but stepping in from JV to varsity, the game is quicker, so his offense was a bit behind at first.. But he’s much more comfortable now,” O’Brien said. “He’s really coming to his own and coming down to tourney time, good teams will take away options one and two so we need to have a more balanced approach.”

Southridge’s Jaden Hayes and Jasper’s Jared Englert exchanged a quick hug following Tuesday’s game. Hayes led the Raiders with a team-high 21 points while Englert finished with six for the Cats. For more photos from the game, click here.

For Jasper, the Wildcats have one more regular-season battle against North Daviess before they can begin focusing on their first sectional opponent, Evansville Harrison.

While the Wildcats are hoping to finish the season strong on a seven-game winning streak, Simmers thinks the second-half hiccup the Cats had against the Raiders can help in the long run because there’s a potential they could experience something similar in the sectional tournament.

“Last year, we played in Huntingburg for the sectional and this had the same atmosphere as a sectional game,” Simmers said. “It’s an away game against a county rival so getting that win here was huge for us and it boosts us into the tournament because we know those games are going to be like that.”

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