Column: Line Drives — Jay controls its own destiny

[This is my column in the Dec. 18 issue of The Commercial Review.]

In sports, it’s good to be in control.

Controlling the football. Handling the basketball. Possessing the soccer ball. Taking care of business on defense.

When teams are in control, it’s difficult for them to lose.

The Jay County girls basketball team is a prime example.

The Patriots enter this weekend with an 8-1 record and sit atop the Allen County Athletic Conference standings at 3-0.

Part of their success has been limiting the number of turnovers — an issue that had plagued the team in previous years.

“We’re going to live and die by our turnovers. We have to keep those in check,” JCHS coach Chris Krieg said before the season started. “Turnovers (are) all fundamentals, and we just have to make sure we take care of the basketball.”

Last season, the Patriots averaged more than 20 turnovers per game.

This year, they have reduced that number to fewer than 14 per game through the first nine contests of the season.

It’s quite the improvement.

The results are showing.

Jay County started the season with six straight wins, including its first win against Fort Wayne South Side since 2009.

Its only loss came Dec. 9 at the hands of University of Dayton commit Jayla Scaife and the Muncie Central Bearcats. Jay County turned the ball over a season-high 21 times against the Bearcats.

Couple that with Scaife’s 21 points and 10 offensive rebounds, and there’s no surprise it was the right concoction for the Patriots’ first defeat of the season.

They bounced back three days later, reducing the number of turnovers to 11 in a 63-31 thumping of Adams Central on Friday.

The game also displayed another aspect that has helped Jay County get off to its best start since the 2008-09 team went undefeated through the regular season.

Defense.

The Patriots are second in Class 4A and 20th overall in defensive average, surrendering just 33.6 points per game. They have held opponents scoreless for the equivalent of one full quarter in four of their wins — Nov. 14 against Monroe Central, Nov. 21 versus Bellmont, Nov. 22 against Winchester and Friday’s defeat of the Jets.

“Coach (Krieg) is always stressing that defense is what creates offense,” JCHS junior Abby Wendel said following the Adams Central victory. “(Against) Muncie Central, defense cost us that game and that is normally what wins us games.”

The Patriots have been tenacious. They have been smart. And they have been dominating the defensive side of the court.

Jay County has allowed 40 or more points just twice. One was the 48-40 loss to Muncie Central, the other was a 48-41 victory against Leo on Dec. 6.

The 18 turnovers per game opposing teams average against the Patriots are indeed turning into opportunities at the other end of the court.

Catherine Dunn (11.6) and Abby Wendel (11.1) are scoring in double figures, and Bre McIntire is not far behind with 9.3 points per game.

It’s the Patriots’ ability to find the open shooter that has helped on the offensive end, too. They average 12 assists a game.

“That’s what I like about this group, they share the ball,” Krieg said after his team’s 54-34 victory Nov. 28 against the Woodlan Warriors. “They pass up a good shot for a great shot. We’re a team that’s going to be hard to guard because we have a team that can score.”

On Saturday, Jay County travels to Berne to take on the South Adams Starfires, a team that has had an up and down season so far. The Stars sit at 5-4 (1-2 ACAC) and have lost their last two games to Leo (60-31) and Randolph Southern (59-56).

A win, and Jay County will continue to control its own destiny in search of an ACAC title. It is currently one game ahead of Leo, Bluffton and Woodlan, all of which are 2-1.

The Patriots defeated Leo and Woodlan, the latter of which handed Bluffton its only conference loss.

Moving to 4-0 in the conference will put the Patriots on the inside track to a title, with matchups against Bluffton (Jan. 9), Southern Wells (Jan. 24) and Heritage (Jan. 31) sprinkled throughout the rest of the season.

Oh, there’s the ACAC tournament that begins Jan. 13 too, with the Patriots opening on the road at Southern Wells.

Jay County has been in control almost all season.

If it continues, good things will happen.

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