Simple story shoots down Cats’ tourney run

Photos by Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Jasper players watched from the bench as Evansville Memorial finished off a 72-43 rout of the Wildcats in Saturday’s Class 3A regional semifinals at the Hatchet House in Washington. After shooting 69 percent from the floor in the sectional championship a week prior, Jasper connected on just 31 percent of its shots against Memorial. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

WASHINGTON — Forget about shot selection or the pressures of the regional stage or of a rematch with an Evansville Memorial team that had churned out a convincing 25-point victory three months earlier. Forget about the Tigers’ size advantage or that they boasted a starting lineup with three seniors while Jasper’s first five consisted of no upperclassmen, a sophomore and a freshman.

Sometimes, it’s far simpler than that.

That’s how Wildcat coach John Goebel rationalized it as he stood on the court inside a swiftly vacated Hatchet House on Saturday afternoon. Jasper had just concluded its first trip to the Class 3A regional since 2002, a venture quickly curtailed by Memorial’s 72-43 semifinal conquest. And though his team trimmed an almost gamelong deficit to a feasible amount at one point, the fighting-from-behind plight had a very basic genesis.

“Sometimes when you analyze a basketball game, it comes down to the simplest things,” Goebel said. “Memorial was knocking down shots in the first quarter. We weren’t. We started off a little slow. I thought we executed our offense well and had some great open looks that the last few weeks have gone down for us and just ran out of luck a little bit, I guess.”

The start surely didn’t help matters for Jasper (14-10), which had fallen behind Memorial 27-8 after the first quarter in the two teams’ regular-season meeting in December. But considering their sizzling 69 percent shooting display in the sectional championship, the Wildcats’ early woes Saturday simply seemed uncharacteristic.

The Cats connected on just 3-of-17 field goals in the first quarter, allowing Memorial to construct a 22-8 lead by quarter’s end and entangling Jasper in a constant game of catch-up for the remaining 24 minutes.

“They jumped on us again like last game,” Jasper senior Courtland Betz said. “We wanted some redemption and thought we were fired up, but we just seemed a little slow today and got beat by a pretty good team that played pretty well.”

The Tigers finished with just eight turnovers, dialed in on all but one of their 13 foul shots and ripped down 11 offensive rebounds (the Cats snatched 10). Four Tigers registered at least eight points, with junior guard Ben Stachowski pumping in a game-high 18 points after hitting all eight of his shots. Meanwhile, Betz, who returned after missing the previous six games for disciplinary reasons, sank a pair of shots from beyond the arc and finished with 10 points as the only Wildcat in double figures.

Mostly, it seemed unfamiliar. Tyler Begle, who delivered a team-high 20 points against Heritage Hills in the sectional title game, knocked down just 1-of-9 field goals to finish with five points. Austin Alles, who finished with 17 points against the Pats, added five points as well while freshman point guard T.D. Nottingham, who’d scorched opponents with 15 ppg through three sectional contests, managed just one 3-pointer against a Memorial defense that “frustrated you a little bit when you’re on offense,” Betz said. “They do it the whole game.”

Despite the shaky start, Jasper sliced the lead to 10 on an 18-foot jumper by Alex Allen (six points, four rebounds) with 5:04 left in the opening half, sandwiched inside a five-minute, 21-second window when Jasper held Memorial without a point. However, the Cats lurched through a four-minute shooting drought themselves before Begle knocked down a 3 with 42 seconds left, sending Jasper into halftime trailing 29-18.

“We knew they were (capable of) make a run because they have a very up-tempo offense, and we had to stop that at some point in the game,” said Jasper guard Nolan Ahrens, who finished with nine points. “And we did in the second quarter coming into halftime.”

Thoughts of fulfilling the comeback, however, didn’t last much longer.

“We always talk about the first four minutes,” said Memorial coach Rick Wilgus, who team lost 73-50 to top-ranked Greensburg in Saturday’s championship. “And when you’re up 11 (at the half), that first four-minute war is what we call it. I mean, it’s going to be a war. We knew Jasper was going to come back. … We had to score that first basket.”

Jasper junior Dylan Schmitt, right, cheered during Saturday’s Class 3A regional matchup at Washington.

The Tigers did, as Eric Decker swiped a steal on the Cats’ opening possession of the second half and coasted in for two of his 13 points. Alles dumped in his first basket on the Wildcats’ next trip down the court to pare it to 31-20, but Jasper failed to slice the deficit any thinner.

Correlating with their 14-2 spurt in the game’s opening 4:19, the Tigers (17-7) again stretched their lead in the third quarter by way of an 18-8 run that swelled their advantage to 47-26 with 3:45 left in the third.

“They just came out on fire,” Ahrens said. “They just hit everything they put up.”

And after netting 17-of-33 shots from long range through three sectional games, Jasper stumbled to a 4-for-22 mark Saturday when “we got some open looks and for everyone, they weren’t falling,” Betz said.

The loss invoked limbo for some. As good as the previous weekend’s triumph had been — unearthing sectional glory after more than a decade of shortcomings — this one still stung.

“That sectional we hadn’t had in 12 years felt great, but I really wanted to win today in this regional because I thought we had a shot,” Ahrens said.

Yet viewed through a broader lens, the Cats’ seasonlong transformation brought solace. After the two squad’s December skirmish, “it didn’t look like anything positive was going to come from us this season,” Betz said. “But we fought and we kept fighting and we got to a really good point and turned out to be a great team and got a sectional. And a lot of people didn’t expect it. I’m lucky to even play in this game.”

The loss capped the careers of “three quality seniors,” Goebel said of Betz, Philip Huebschman and Kyle McWilliams. But as the Wildcat coach and his players agreed, the foundation has been constructed, as all five of Jasper’s starters should return next season.

“We’re bringing back a lot of guys who played a lot of varsity basketball this year, and that’s always a positive thing,” Goebel said. “And not only did they play varsity basketball, but they experienced success at the varsity level. So anytime you can do that, you’ve got to be happy about the future.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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