The Jackson Indians won back-to-back District Championships in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, but lost in the Championship game the last two years. This week they returned to glory and netted some familiar hardware.
After knocking off Oakville 77-39 in the opening round, the Indians focused on game film and defensive strategy in the next two games to take down Lindberg and top-seeded Kirkwood. They won the two games by a combined three points, but the strategy worked like gangbusters. They topped the Flyers 38-37 and then bested the Pioneers 39-37 to take home the Championship.
The game against Oakville was a no-doubter, but the only one in that category in the playoffs. The Indians went up 20-7 in the first quarter and never looked back. A 26-10 second quarter had them flying sky-high and heading into half time with a robust 46-17 lead.
There wasn’t much else to do at that point besides close the deal, but Jackson still poured in 24 points in the third before sending in the subs in the fourth. They still outscored the Tigers 7-6 in the final frame, but it was more about clock management than anything else.
Big man Clayton Ernst paced the scoring with 17 points and seven rebounds and was chased by Gavin Holdman, who had 15 points despite playing just 12 minutes. He was a perfect 7-of-7 shooting, which included a three pointer. Blayne Harris had 13 and Kaedmon Winborne had a dozen to round out the top scorers in double digits.
That win moved Jackson into the Semifinals and pitted them against a very tough and creative Lindbergh Flyers team. This one was kind of an offensive disaster for both teams, but the Indians made their bones at the free-throw line, and did just enough to escape with the one-point victory.
They went down early in the first 10-4, but came back in the second a bit with a 10-7 showing. Still, they found themselves trailing by three at the half. But the plan was in motion.
Head Coach Kory Thoma broke down the identity of the game with, “Lindbergh plays a unique style of offense with a lot of back screens, called a blocker-mover offense. They were super disciplined with their shot selection in this game. They only took a shot if they got what they were looking for on offense, hence the low-scoring game.”
Jackson went up after an 11-6 third quarter, and did what they needed to do at the line in the fourth. They were outscored 14-13 in the final stanza, but all that matters is that they hit their shots and held onto that one-point lead for dear life.
Coach Thoma spoke to the final result, saying, “This was a tough but well-played game by both teams. Their 6’10” player neutralized us consistently, but we overcame by making 13-14 free throws to advance to the Championship!”
It just goes to show you, if you have the lead and can work the charity stripe effectively, it’s a late-game recipe for success. Despite scoring just 38 points, Ernst had a big game again with 14 and six boards, as the only player in double digits for Jackson.
That win sent the Indians to the Championship game, and they knew what they had to do to take down a very particular Kirkwood squad. Coach Thoma broke it down, “We knew going into the Championship game Kirkwood was a very explosive offensive team and a one of a kind physical defensive team. They routinely played five guards out in their motion offense all year with very good shooters. We played zone for every possession of the game to combat their explosiveness and shooting capabilities.”
That strategy worked out just fine. The Pioneers managed a 12-9 lead after the first quarter, in another low-scoring affair, but Jackson came right back with an 8-4 second. That gave them the slimmest of leads, but they still entered the half up 17-16.
The defensive strategy was paying off and all the Indians needed to do was get a lead, make their free throws and hang on for the win. Just like the Lindbergh game, they did just that. They stumbled a bit in the third, getting outscored 12-7, but made up for it in the last eight minutes. They went up 15-9 and worked the line to perfection to secure the 39-37 victory and the Championship.
Coach Thoma echoed that sentiment by saying, “We noticed on our scout films they struggled at times versus a zone defense. It worked in our favor, as we pulled ahead late and hit just enough free throws to win the Championship!”
It was as exciting as it was unconventional, but no matter how you slice it, the Jackson Indians are Class 6 District Champs once again.
Kudos to the boys on this one. Harris led the way with 13 points and went 5-of-5 from the line when it mattered most. Ernst was big again as well, just missing a double-double with nine points and eight boards. He was 3-of-4 from the line to boot.
It was a heck of a run for the second-seeded Indians, but it’s not over yet. Now they’ll turn their attention to the State Championship Tournament, where they will take on Eureka on Friday night to try and keep the dream alive.
Tipoff is at 8pm. Good luck Indians!