Wildcat opener full of hiccups, hope

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Brooke Lueken, center, watched from the bench along with teammates Emma Stout, left, Anna Mundy, Elizabeth Verkamp and Elisabeth Ahlbrand after Vincennes Rivet scored a basket Thursday night at the Jasper High School gym. The Wildcats led the Class 1A No. 2 Patriots by 10 points in the first half but couldn’t maintain the edge in a 44-43 setback in their season opener. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — The Jasper girls basketball team came in not knowing what to expect. It left with beaming anticipation going forward. So even after, Maddie Ubelhor could smile.

Much of it could’ve been forecasted from a team that had “practiced for a whole four and a half days together” before its season opener Thursday night, Jasper girls basketball coach Ryan Erny said. The turnovers and missed shots can be serviced. And even when the Wildcats couldn’t muster a potential game-winning shot in the contest’s closing seconds, allowing Class 1A No. 2 Vincennes Rivet to sneak out of the Jasper High School gym 44-43 victors, the defeat did little to wane the enthusiasm of a group now “an incredible 0-1” in its coach’s eyes.

“We really, as a coaching staff, didn’t know what to expect,” Erny said. “And that was a step in the right direction for us.”

Even Ubelhor, the Wildcats’ sharpshooting guard who just couldn’t find rhythm in the first varsity basketball contest in Jasper’s new gym, extracted enough positives to smother what any shooting percentage might suggest.

The junior diagnosed promise and pain from several facets of the game.

First, the Wildcats have to take better care of the ball. Eighteen turnovers might fly for Game One, Ubelhor said, but much needs repair, especially against a three-quarter-court zone trap the Patriots installed in the second quarter, which led to 12 Jasper turnovers through the two middle periods — and a purposely shy Ubelhor afterward.

Why did the Cats become flustered?

“I don’t want to answer that question,” Ubelhor said with a sheepish smile.

But just as Jasper did most of the night, Ubelhor eventually found a response.

“We need to work on that, because if teams come and watch us and know that, ”˜Oh, they can’t do good (against) a 1-3-1,’ then that’s what we have to work on,” Ubelhor said. “And we’ve been working on it a lot during practice. I guess it’s just because we didn’t have the intensity that they had on defense to help us with the passes and everything. And all we can do is improve.”

Voila, the Wildcats’ Thursday theme.

Before facing the slow-down defense, the Cats sprang to a 14-4 lead after the first quarter, with five players generating points. And after the Patriots grabbed their first lead at 29-26, the Wildcats pushed back with persistence, as Brooke Lueken (eight rebounds) and Tori Sermersheim (five rebounds) each grabbed offensive boards on the same possession before Sermersheim deposited a smooth 7-foot baseline jumper with 2:28 to go in the third quarter.

When Rivet’s lead grew to 33-28, Ubelhor drove for a basket and a foul, cutting the Patriot lead to two entering the final period. The Cats never allowed Rivet’s advantage to grow past five points.

“We’ve got the capability to fight back, and it’s great to see that,” Erny said. “We’ve got some kids that have a little confidence. They’ve been in the fire and know how to handle some of those situations.”

Jasper’s final out-of-bounds play from the right-corner baseline with four seconds left was intercepted, and the Cats converted just 3-of-9 free throws in the fourth quarter. In the young season, Jasper hadn’t even worked on end-of-game situations in practice.

Despite tired legs, the finish kick was impressive. Down 36-31, the Cats forced Rivet to turn the ball over on 10 of its final 13 possessions. Three straight steals came from Sermersheim, who finished with a team-high 13 points, Emily Jones (seven points) plucked a pair and Ubelhor also picked off two steals and scored five of her 11 points in the final two minutes.

Defensively, the Cats executed as their coach hoped, and Erny applauded Jones’ work against imposing Patriot guard Bailey Dreiman. The Rivet senior relentlessly crashed the boards (eight rebounds) but converted on just 1-of-9 field goals for the Pats, who lost standout Kelsey Ivers early in the second quarter when the sophomore forward injured her leg.

Yet as prudent as the Cats were defensively, they did neglect one Patriot threat. Though the Patriot starting lineup consisted of four seniors, sophomore reserve Katie Donovan eventually delivered the salvo, amassing half of Rivet’s points on 8-of-11 shooting (5-of-6 from 3-point range), with 18 points arriving in the second half.

“That was probably the one disappointing takeaway we had, was we lost a shooter that we said shoots,” Erny said. “But it’s Game One. You learn from those situations and it’s something we need to do to get better. And I thought we got better tonight.”

For Ubelhor, the effort was still uplifting after she converted just one field goal on 17 attempts before two buckets late in the game. Ubelhor also couldn’t solve the cylinder on any of her nine 3-point tries.

“I’m just waiting for it to come back to me,” Ubelhor said with a careful chuckle.

Nonetheless, Uebelhor said her confidence was buoyed by the words and actions of her teammates.

Lueken deposited 4-of-6 shots, both inside and out, collaring eight points to match her eight boards. And when Sermersheim picked up her second foul just eight seconds into the second quarter and starting forward Elizabeth Verkamp was sidelined for the final four minutes of the half after hurting her knee, reserves Elisabeth Ahlbrand (four points) and Alex Krapf came in to mend the temporarily depleted frontcourt.

And through it all, they kept feeding Ubelhor the rock.

“I just have to keep shooting and I’m glad I have my team behind me, because all they kept telling me was, ”˜Keep shooting,’ because they trust me with the ball,” said Ubelhor, who emphasized the senior leadership above all.

“They’re encouraging and always try to keep us upbeat and they never are negative. It’s just awesome. I’m just really excited for this season.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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