Tigers crash Jasper’s centennial party

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Scott Rolen, center, stood with his son Finn, 6, and daughter Raine, 8, alongside Michael Lewis, left, and Mike Ballenger, right, during a celebration of 100 years of Jasper basketball during halftime of Friday night’s game against Evansville Memorial. Jasper played its first basketball game in school history 100 years ago to the day, on Dec. 13, 1913. Evansville Memorial crashed the party, though, steaming to a 76-51 victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — The dozens of team photos, the slide shows, the celebratory pregame video and halftime recognition of hardwood legends brought the hordes of Wildcat fans inside the Jasper High School gymnasium to their feet.

One-hundred years to the day that Jasper played its first basketball game on Dec. 13, 1913, the commemoration was in full swing. Wildcat greats in attendance, like Dr. J.P. Salb, a member of the 1971 Silver Anniversary squad, Mike Ballenger, Michael Lewis and Scott Rolen, were greeted by thunderous applause at halftime of Friday’s bout between Jasper and Evansville Memorial.

The halftime ceremony delivered a welcome diversion. Not only did it illuminate the acclaimed history of a hoops program that’s amassed 30 sectional titles, 14 regional crowns and one oh-so-sweet ride to Hinkle Fieldhouse for the 1949 state championship, but it also helped the night preserve its cheery tone despite the on-court proceedings.

The Tigers’ 76-51 dismantling of the Wildcats presented a stark contrast to the evening’s otherwise upbeat tenor, as a copious crowd first clapped, then cringed when Evansville Memorial ran away from the get-go.

“It was just a perfect ceremony and the group that put that on, very thankful for them,” Jasper coach John Goebel said. “I just wish we had lived up to our end of the bargain and made a basketball game out of it.”

As Goebel spelled out bluntly, “They just flat out beat us in every aspect of the game. They outshot us, they outhustled us, they outexecuted us, they outworked us, they outcoached us. It’s the whole spectrum.”

Jasper enjoyed a 5-4 advantage when Tyler Begle (team-high 14 points) drained a 3-pointer 56 seconds into the game, but never evened the score nor led after Memorial’s Alex Kieffer knocked down an 8-foot jumper that gave the Tigers a 6-5 lead. Fueled by Adam Eberhard’s 12 first-quarter points, the Tigers sprinted into the second period ahead 28-7, while Jasper converted consecutive baskets just once in the opening quarter and turned the ball over six times.

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper senior Courtland Betz, who finished with five points, flipped a pass out of traffic. 

“I don’t think we came out and adjusted that well,” said Jasper forward Alex Allen, who contributed 10 points, three rebounds and three steals. “It took a while and still didn’t feel that great.”

Allen and frontcourt mates Austin Alles and Philip Huebschman had their hands full with Eberhard the entire contest. The Memorial junior combined with Kieffer for eight assists, and Eberhard also finished with a game-high 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field to accompany his 5-for-6 performance from the foul line and game-high eight rebounds. Kieffer chipped in with eight points and five rebounds.

The Tigers operated with efficiency. Memorial guard Eric Decker connected on all four of his field goal attempts and all four free throws to conclude his 15-point night, while Brandon Auker dished out a game-high six assists. In all, 18 of the Tigers’ 28 field goals came with an assist attached.

On the flip side, the Tigers’ suffocating man-to-man defense smothered Jasper ballhandlers into 11 first-half turnovers and 36 percent shooting on the night, including 3-of-15 from beyond the arc. Begle and Allen were the only Wildcats to reach double figures.

“They just picked us apart. They got us down early and once they got us in a hole, they continued to be confident and consistent. So what Memorial had in execution and confidence, we were actually the exact opposite,” Goebel said. “We were not a confident team tonight and we did not look like a team tonight that was ready to play. And I take responsibility for that. When your team is that far out of the game and that far off track, you’ve got to start with the guy at the top and I didn’t have them ready to play. We’ve got work to do.”

Away from the game, sights, sounds and faces of yesteryear offered solace.

Ballenger hung around the court well after the contest concluded. Not only did Lewis make the trip down to Jasper, but the program’s all-time leading scorer and current Butler University assistant coach spoke with the team prior to the game. By night’s end, he was heading back to Indianapolis for Butler’s bout with Purdue in today’s Crossroads Classic. In the school’s cafeteria above the arena, tables with each year’s team photo, record and player names were laid out for fans to gaze.

Allen Joseph holds a basketball with a subtle smile on his face in the 1920-21 team photo. Coach Hershel Johnson stands stoically behind Joseph and his six other players.

John Hoffman sits hunched over in another, alongside his teammates from the 1955-56 squad that compiled a 20-6 record en route to the semistate. A look of exhausted ecstasy is etched on his face. A net hangs around his neck.

Some 20 years later, Mike Luegers and Kevin Kelly tower above their teammates in the back row of the 1972-73 team shot, a group that reached semistate for the second straight year. Luegers’ stern face epitomizes grit.

An eight-person committee comprised of David Webber, Jared Brosmer, Rick Begle, Terry Tucker, Bernie Vogler, Greg Eckerle, Doug McWilliams and Goebel worked to assemble the centennial production — from talking with former players to scanning newspaper clippings and every form of research in between. For a bunch that enjoys and cherishes the history so much, the task was tedious yet rewarding.

“It was a great ceremony for the 100 years,” Brosmer said. “Hopefully it will continue with the tradition that we’ve seen in the last 100 years.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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