Wildcat girls eliminated in sectional openerFebruary 4, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
EVANSVILLE — Jasper hung tight the entire game, and was on the verge of taking the lead in the fourth quarter for the first time since early in the first quarter.
Then it all fell apart.
The Wildcats (12-12) dropped a 54-44 loss to Castle Tuesday in the opening round of the Class 4A Evansville Harrison sectional, and are still in search of their first win in the sectional tournament since their most recent sectional championship season in 2015. The Knights proceeded to go on a 9-0 run after Jasper trimmed their lead to 36-34. They built their lead up as large as 11, pulling away from a Wildcats team that had been on their tail all night.
"They were prepared," Wildcats coach Jessica Mehringer said. "We executed. We gave up a few easy baskets, made a few mistakes and when you play a team like Castle, that's going to be the difference in the game."
Senior Brooke Nottingham got Jasper started with a couple of buckets to get the Wildcats off to a 4-0 lead, the only one they'd hold in the game. The Knights went on a 10-0 run in the first quarter, followed by a 5-0 run for the Wildcats. Jasper's deficit never got insurmountable, but ball security issues contributed to the loss.
Mehringer said, though, that the aggressive defense the Knights showed is the name of their game.
"We knew we were going to get hassled when we rebounded," she said. "So, we really worked on that, and we worked on ball pressure, too, and in the half court, we did a good job of that."
The Wildcats nearly tied it when down, 25-23. Senior Claire Knies had an offensive rebound and attempted a putback, but it did not go. Jasper found itself in a 30-25 deficit at the half, still finding a way to hang with Castle's aggressive defense and forcing the Wildcats to cough up the ball throughout the game.
Jasper also fouled significantly more in the second half than Castle did. Nottingham ended Castle's fourth quarter 9-0 run with a 3-pointer, but Jasper still trailed by eight at that point, and never could get it down to a single possession game again.
It was the last high school game for Nottingham, Knies and fellow seniors Lexie Jerger and Isabelle Blazey. Mehringer is proud of the leaders the seniors were, taking their teammates under their wing and embraced them to help them get better. She'll miss that leadership, as well as the tenacity and how hard they played.
"We already said, 'Juniors, hope you paid attention this year to the great job these seniors did for you,'" Mehringer said. "It's going to be fun next year to watch those juniors step in to that leadership role and really take the team as their own and help the rest of the team meet goals."
The Wildcats spent almost the entire season under .500, winning their first game of the season Nov. 14 at Southridge and then dropping their next four. They wouldn't climb above .500 again until they ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak.
Mehringer thought it'd be easy to roll over in some cases and not keep working hard, but for Jasper to climb its way back to .500 says a lot about its character.
"I'll be super proud of these kids and how hard they worked," she said when reflecting on this team in the future. "We were undersized in a lot of our games and kids listened to the strategy on how to guard bigs and make things happen, even we were outsized, and we were still able to do quite a bit of damage without really having a true big man.
"That's one of the things that I'll remember about this team and these seniors leading this team is that their energy and effort and intensity trickled down to the rest of our kids," Mehringer continued. "So it was awesome to see those kids pick it up and understand what they're capable of, and they may not have done that had those seniors not been there playing their butts off every single day in practice."
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