Adversity — it is something the Jackson boys basketball team has been forced to deal with ever since the Indians lost their only returning starter, who was kicked off the team in December for violating team rules.
In the new year, Jackson went on losing streaks of five and four games in a row before picking up wins over SEMO Conference opponent Sikeston and New Madrid County Central before the start of the Class 5 District 1 Tournament hosted at rival school Poplar Bluff.
“They just kept working,” Jackson head coach Darrin Scott said. “In January, things were rough trying to figure things out. We played badly in a few games, but they just kept showing up everyday and worked hard. It’s nice to see kids keep working hard and get rewarded for that.”
The Indians were able to reach this year’s district championship game for the eighth-year in a row, where they faced host Poplar Bluff. Jackson fell to the Mules 70-62 in January during one of the losing streaks, but the team prevailed this time around.
Jackson (11-16) defeated Poplar Bluff (9-16) 49-45 to win a second-straight Class 5 District 1 title and the seventh overall in the last eight seasons. Scoring wise, the Indians were led by a pair of underclassmen in sophomore Quinn Scott and freshman Clayton Ernst.
“It was great for the guys [to win another district title],” Coach Scott said. “From where they’ve come this year with all the stuff that’s happened and the things they’ve had to deal with — it was great for them to get a win.”
Ernst and Scott combined for a total of 28 points as each player scored 14 apiece, while Scott hit a game-high three 3-pointers on five attempts and went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line.
Ernst led all players in two categories with a game-high eight rebounds along with two blocks. Fellow post player and sophomore Nick Wasilewski paced Ernst with seven rebounds of his own while being Jackson’s third-leading scorer with six points.
Helping lead the offensive attack was senior Michael Schneider, who dished out a game-high five assists, scored four points and hit both of his free-throw tries.
Poplar Bluff was able to have nine different players score, but only one of them managed to reach double digits, which was senior Kendrick Brown as he finished with 12 points and also had seven rebounds. The Mules second-leading scorer was junior Chance Camp-bell, who produced eight points with six coming from 3-point range.
“I thought defensively we did a lot of good things,” Coach Scott said. “In the third quarter we were up by 10, but Clayton and Nick both got in foul trouble. We had to alternate them in, and that’s when [Poplar Bluff] made their run to get back into the game.”
Poplar Bluff took a 41-40 lead, which eventually led the Mules to stall the game offensively for several minutes. The Indians allowed Poplar Bluff to run a few minutes off the clock until applying just enough pressure to cause a turnover as they regained the lead with under three minutes left in regulation.
One of the team’s senior leaders Lane Crowden only finished with five points in the contest, but he did go 3-for-4 at the line and also came up with a team-high two steals for the Indians.
“[Lane] has gotten better as the year went on,” Coach Scott said. “He hadn’t played in the last two years, so as the year has gone on there’s always been new experiences [for him], and he’s learned something. He’s been extremely coachable all year, so I think the good thing is he keeps improving as the year goes on.”
With the win, Jackson moves on to the Class 5 Sectionals and will face District 2 Champion Mehlville (21-5) tonight, which is a team that is currently riding a six-game winning streak. One of Mehlville’s seniors, Davion Bradford, has already signed with Kansas State to play college basketball in the Big 12 Conference.