ST. MARYS — Last year at this time, Lima Central Catholic was embarking on its journey to its third straight trip to state and its second state title in three years.
This year the Thunderbirds will be watching other teams advance in the postseason after dropping a gut-wrenching, 50-48, loss to Delphos Jefferson in the opening round of the Division III sectionals Wednesday night.
With the win, Jefferson (12-11) will face Northwest Conference rival Spencerville at 1 p.m. Saturday in St. Marys. Lima Central Catholic ends its season 6-17.
Unlike the highly successful Thunderbird teams that went to Columbus, this year’s LCC team did not have the experience and it showed down the stretch.
“I thought for three and half quarters we had control of that game but again with a team that continues to turn the ball over with pressure and they really exposed our weakness tonight,” LCC head coach Frank Kill said. “I didn’t think we had these issues because I thought we fixed it midway through the season ”
Another big reason Jefferson picked up the win was the play of senior standout Jace Stockwell, who pumped in a game-high 29 points. Recently named to the NWC first team, Stockwell, who’s action motivated his teammates, scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson head coach Jordan Jettingshoff said he came in with some players with inexperience but it was his veteran players who stepped up when it counted, especially Stockwell.
“Jace is who you want to make any play late in the game,” Jettingshoff. “He made that charge late in the game and in the first half he basically kept us in the game in the first half. He is an ultra competitor. He is a gamer and I knew what he was going to do for us and I think after the first half players saw what he did for us and they picked their energy too.”
For most of the game LCC held the lead with precision shooting, and despite Stockwell scoring and keeping the Wildcats close, LCC opened up a 37-27 lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
Jefferson went on a 7-1 run to close out the quarter to slice LCC’s advantage 38-34 entering the final stanza.
In the fourth quarter, LCC stalled Jefferson’s comeback early but the Wildcats intensified their defense and Stockwell led the offensive charge and when Alex Rode hit a bucket, the Wildcats were down 48-47 with 1:27 left in the game.
A key charging call on LCC followed on its next possession and Stockwell followed with a short jumper to give the Wildcats their first lead since the first half, 49-48, with 55 seconds remaining. After a missed shot from LCC, Stockwell was fouled and he made one of two free throws to up the lead to three.
On LCC’s ensuing possession, the Thunderbirds were whistled for a second charging call and LCC was forced to foul. The Thunderbirds had one final glimmer of hope when Jefferson failed to convert its free throws with 12.6 seconds left, but the Thunderbirds could not get a clean look and Biggz Johnson’s desperation shot did not hit its mark.
“Our post players played like they were capable of,” Jettingshoff said. “We knew this game would come down to how they guarded (Thomas) Williams and (Mark) Janowski because rightfully so they are great players. In the second half we did what was needed and took some charges late in the game which was crucial.”
In the second half, Janowski and Williams were held to six total points. For the game Williams finished with 15 points and Janowski added 10. Johnson, who has improved throughout the season, scored 12 points.
“Offensively I thought we were good but weren’t finishing around the rim,” Kill said. “We missed some outside shots that we were making early and when you start missing shots from outside it is not going to be a good night.”
In the first half, LCC was 3 of 8 from behind the 3-point arc but in the second half the Thunderbirds were 2-of-7.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter @JoseNogueras1.