[This is my column in the March 13 issue of The Commercial Review.]
One team was 20-6. The other finished 18-7.
Both played for a conference championship, but only one claimed the title.
And both also had good runs to the sectional title game.
I’m talking about the Jay County High School boys and girls basketball teams.
And despite not winning a sectional trophy, that doesn’t mean either team had a disappointing season.
The girls compiled the 20-6 record. The last time any Patriot girls team came close to that 20 wins was back-to-back 18-win seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
The Patriots beat the teams they were supposed to — they were 11-0 against teams that finished with a record below .500. They didn’t lose to an Allen County Athletic Conference opponent, winning both the regular season and tournament title, and were a stellar 11-1 on their home floor.
Jay County also had some quality wins against teams with records of .500 or above (it was 9-6 against teams with such a resume). It beat Leo twice. It also defeated Fort Wayne South Side twice — once on the road and the other on a neutral floor. The Patriots outlasted a tough Pendleton Heights team in overtime, also on the road.
Sure the girls had their fair share of tough losses too. The Jan. 3 game against Fort Recovery easily comes to mind, when they made just four field goals in a 41-24 loss to the Indians. They also struggled against eventual sectional champions Muncie Central, Concordia and Richmond.
Then there’s the sectional championship game against Homestead.
For nearly eight minutes, Jay County went toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Spartans. But then Homestead showed why it finished the season with 26 wins and an appearance in the state finals. It went on a run that matched its win total to put the game out of reach.
There’s no doubt the Patriots were a good team this year. They were second in Class 4A (19th overall) in defensive average, surrendering 35.5 points per game.
Next season has the makings to be just as promising. The Patriots will lose seniors Bre McIntire and Catherine Dunn, but they will also have juniors Abby Wendel, Ava Kunkler and Lyla Muhlenkamp, sophomore Taylor Homan and freshman Hanna Ault returning with a taste for success and an itch for a sectional title.
Sometimes, good teams just run into better ones.
Such was the case with the Jay County boys team too.
The Patriots had their 14th consecutive winning season. They won 18 games for the second time in program history. They had won 17 games only three other times — 1987-88, 2011-12 and 2012-13 — the last of which was a 20-3 season.
This year’s squad was also the best defensive team the school has ever had. The Patriots allowed a state-best 33.08 points per game, and held opponents to 30 points or fewer in 14 contests. Each of those resulted in victories.
Jay County beat Muncie Central for the third time in as many years and the seventh in 39 tries. (Six of those wins came during coach Craig Teagle’s tenure.) It defeated all of its conference opponents with exception of state-ranked Leo, which handed the Patriots two of their seven losses.
Last year, the Patriots struggled to match up with teams that had big post players. This season, it was the opposite. Many of their opponents had a tough time handling Adam Dirksen down low. With Jay Houck supplementing Dirksen, the forwards gave the majority of their foes fits.
That is, until Monday.
Jay County was faced with the task of trying to stop Homestead’s Caleb Swanigan, a heavily-recruited McDonald’s All-American with NBA potential.
The Patriots had a 21-17 lead midway through the second quarter, but saw it quickly fade. And then the fourth-ranked Spartans created some space in the third quarter.
In addition to Swanigan, Jay County had difficulties with point guard Jordan Geist, who had 19 points to complement Swanigan’s 21.
The JCHS boys had a good season, something they can look back on and build from going into next year despite losing three seniors. Justin Dirksen, Zach Pryor and Nick Clemens all saw a ton of playing time.
Like the girls, the boys will have a good core of players returning next year, including Adam Dirksen and Houck. But Kyler Carvel, Bowen Runyon, Jason Schlosser and a host of other role players will be looking to fill the void from this year’s seniors.
Jay County’s basketball teams had a good year on the court. They just ran into Homestead squads that were having better ones.
[Post script: The Homestead High School boys basketball team claimed the Class 4A state championship March 28.]